Legislative update with teacher pay raises topping the discussions

By District 35 Rep. Joey Hood

Submitted photo Choctaw County Constables joined constables across the state at the Capitol to discuss their concerns. Pictured are Constable Thomas Raybourn, District 35 Rep. Joey Hood and Constable Chris Coleman.

Submitted photo
Choctaw County Constables joined constables across the state at the Capitol to discuss their concerns. Pictured are Constable Thomas Raybourn, District 35 Rep. Joey Hood and Constable Chris Coleman.

During the first part of the week, House members were devoted to addressing bills in committee in anticipation of the 8 p.m. deadline on February 4, 2014 to move all general bills and constitutional amendments out of committee and onto the House Calendar. Bills not reported out of committee by that deadline are dead for the Session.

By deadline on Tuesday, 75.5 percent of the measures submitted by members had been killed. Of the 1,368 measures introduced by the general deadline, 333 survived and made it to the House Calendar. Two bills had already been signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant.

House Bill 504 – Teacher Pay Raise

Prior to the 2014 Legislative Session, the Lt. Governor indicated that he would only support a merit based teacher pay raise instead of an across the board pay raise.  In the 2013 Legislative Session, a $5,000 teacher pay raise was passed by the House only to be killed in the Senate. With that in mind, the House Education Committee met to discuss House Bill 504 which provides for a teacher pay raise.

Currently, Mississippi’s base pay for a starting teacher is $30,900, compared to approximately $32,500 for the rest of the Southeast. House Bill 504 increases the starting salary of teachers by $1,500 for every teacher in his or her first five years of teaching beginning January 1, 2015.  This increase brings Mississippi’s starting pay in line with the Southeastern average for all teachers with one to five years of teaching experience.

House Bill 504 also establishes 22 benchmarks to qualify for a pay raise. Any teacher who satisfies three of the 22 benchmarks would be eligible for a pay increase of $1,500 in calendar year 2015, just like the starting pay increase.  Furthermore, House Bill 504 calls for a $1,350 raise in Year Three and a $1,400 raise in Year Four, as long as the economic growth of the State of Mississippi is three percent or better.  According to Mississippi State Economist, Darrin Webb, the growth projections for Mississippi over the next three fiscal years are 4.4 percent in FY16, 4.1 percent in FY17, and 3.7 percent in FY18.

House Bill 504 will also put over $180 million of taxpayer dollars into teacher pay raises over the next four years.  With the passage of this bill, Mississippi teachers can receive a total increase of $4,200 over the next four years.  It should be noted that teachers would still be eligible for their STEP increases and any other professional advancement increases that are currently in law, including local supplements.

Supporters of the bill believe that this measure is a fiscally responsible compromise that combines an across the board pay raise for teachers’ base salaries while additionally rewarding all teachers who are able to meet three of 22 benchmarks. Opponents of the bill do not believe the teachers are being given a large enough raise and object to tying a raise to professional benchmarks. The Committee passed the bill to the House floor where it was debated for three hours. Six amendments were filed with one passing. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 86-26.   I voted for the bill.

In closing, House Bill 504 provides for a teacher pay raise that is based on available funding and has a realistic chance for passage or debate in the Senate. As stated above, in the 2013 Legislative Session a $5,000 teacher pay raise was passed by the House but was killed in the Senate.  One of the reasons it failed was because of insufficient funds.

The teacher pay raise in House Bill 504 is not based upon a “strict” merit system approach where a teacher’s pay raise is solely contingent upon increasing student test scores.  Rather, House Bill 504 combines an across the board base salary pay raise for teachers who have one to five years teaching experience and rewards all teachers who are able to meet three of 22 benchmarks.  I am hopeful that this compromise, in contrast to a strict merit based approach preferred by the Lt. Governor, will keep House Bill 504 alive for passage and discussion with the Senate.

House Bill 504 is now the property of the Senate.  The Senate can either pass the bill as written, make changes to the bill, or kill it.  I am hopeful that a teacher pay raise can be reached this legislative session with the Senate.  House Bill 504 has provided an avenue for a teacher pay raise this legislative session.  I will try to keep everyone posted on the status of this Legislation.  I would encourage all of the teachers in my district to contact me if they have any concerns.

I would like to thank the people of District 35 for allowing me the opportunity to serve. If you have any questions or need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.  You can reach me at the Capitol at P. O. Box 1018, Jackson, Mississippi 39215 or call (601) 359-3339. You may also email me at jhood@house.ms.gov or visit my website at www.joeyhoodmississippi.com.