Senate Education Committee holds teacher pay hearing

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 10:14 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi doesn’t stack up well when you look at our teacher pay versus the state’s around us.

The Senate Education Committee is looking into ways to improve our rankings and, more importantly, put more money in teachers’ pockets.

The most obvious missing piece of Wednesday’s teacher pay hearing... teachers, who were in the classrooms at the time. But that’s why Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar asked them to submit testimony by email.

“This book right here... all the comments that I’ve received,” said DeBar as he held up a sizable stack of bound pages.

Some of those emails were read during the course of the hearing.

“We need a paradigm shift to see educators as we are now, not as volunteers or second-wage earners, but as fully independent and capable professionals deserving of more than a basic living wage,” read Sen. Brice Wiggins as he scanned through the emails.

And a chart from the Southern Regional Education Board shows it’s not just about the education background. Mississippi teachers are making 15.2% less than people with the same education level working in other fields.

“Everybody wants to be paid more. But we need to be clear that pay is only a piece of the large puzzle,” explained Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Southern Regional Education Board President.

The salary doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s money coming out of that for insurance and payments into the retirement system.

As it relates to how the state will afford any pay increases, Senator David Blount did caution against the recent conversations about eliminating the state income tax.

“The most important thing we can do to fund the increases for salaries and to improve the insurance rates of teachers with families is to protect MAEP, the general fund and the income tax that pays for it,” noted Blount.

The pay issue is more urgent as the teacher shortage gets worse.

This 50 page task force report released by the Governor’s office less than an hour before the hearing. It, too, describes why teacher pay should be upped.

“I’ve already made a proposal months ago that we increase teacher pay $4,300 a year,” said Governor Tate Reeves following a Wednesday event in North Mississippi. “We saw an increase in teacher pay last year. We need a plan and I’ve identified a plan.”

The report also mentions the licensing process, professional supports and pathways to the profession.

The biggest question as lawmakers head into the next legislative session will be how to pay for another pay raise. That was not part of the issues addressed in Wednesday’s hearing.

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