UPDATE 1/21/2021: 

The Mississippi Senate has unanimously passed the teacher pay raise bill. SB 2001 was the first action brought up on the floor today. It was introduced and explained by Senator DeBar who chairs the Education Committee. All other education bills maintained their place on the calendar.

“As you saw today it passed unanimously with little debate which shows that the Senate has it as a top legislative priority to take care of our teachers and increase their pay,” said DeBar. “We are hopeful that throughout this process we will do that and get it to the Governor to be signed.”

This bill is the same as what was passed by the Senate last year, but did not make it through both chambers successfully due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our public educators are on the front lines of this pandemic, continuing to make sure Mississippi children receive first-rate instruction.  Today, the Senate showed their gratitude by unanimously sending a pay increase to the House,” Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann said. “Thank you to all of our Mississippi educators.”

You can watch the floor action below (1:07 mark): 

BACKGROUND: 

The Mississippi Senate is moving forward on a promised piece of legislation from Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann – the teacher pay raise bill.

SB 2001, which is essentially the same bill presented last year, would raise teacher and teacher assistant pay by $1,000. However, it did not go into law last year because of budgetary issues brought on by COVID-19.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee last week and was double referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee which took it up Tuesday afternoon. It passed there unanimously as well.

“Hopefully this is one of the few more such raises over the next couple of years,” said Senator DeBar.

In Appropriations Senator Angela Turner-Ford attempted to offer an amendment to add language stating that it was the Legislature’s intent to increase the teacher pay to that of the Southeastern Average within the next year. However, Chairman Hopson found the language vague and Senator DeBar said that while he agrees with the intent, he was concerned about the cost of the move. The amendment was then withdrawn.

The bill allows for new teachers who have up to three years of experience and a bachelor’s degree to see a $1,110 increase, bringing the base pay to $37,000. The current Southeastern average pay is $38,420. Hosemann has been a long-standing proponent of bringing Mississippi’s teacher pay at least up to that regional average.

“I recognize this is still below the SREB average, but it is a start and it’s what I think we can afford at this point in time,” said Senator Dennis DeBar (R). This is an additional $51 million cost to the state’s budget.

Passing a budget bill this early in session could be considered unusual. Senator DeBar, who Chairs the Education Committee, said that in this particular matter, this bill was being drafted as far back as October 2020. He said two others have been in the works as well, SB 2267 which would be a licensing change and SB 2149 dealing with average daily attendance and funding from MAEP based on that number.

“We really wanted to get these out, we think they’re good bills just to show how important our school districts and those who work in our districts, from teachers, superintendents and parents, how much we appreciate them,” said DeBar.

The current average pay for a teacher is $46,843 annually.

SB 2267, which deals with license reciprocity, addresses one of the major issues the state has in a teacher shortage and extra steps given to those who want to come in from other states. What this bill will do is recognize a valid teaching license from another state. As long as an individual can pass a criminal background check, the teacher can receive a standard five-year teaching license in the state.

Currently, out-of-state teachers are only permitted a two-year license initially and are then required to meet certain terms and conditions to obtain a state license. Senator DeBar said this will help with Mississippi’s critical teacher shortage.

Senator Angela Hill (R) also expressed concerns about a lag in licenses being issued by the Mississippi Department of Education. She said she has received many complaints of this process taking far too long and offered a suggestion to add in a timeline that MDE would be required to follow in getting them issued in a faster manner.

“That’s the number one complaint I get from all teachers is how slow it is to process their paperwork and they’re missing pay during that time,” said Hill. DeBar said her suggestion has some merit and recommended she submit an amendment before the bill got to the floor.

Senator Chad McMahan (R) offered an amendment on the same issue, giving MDE up to 30 days to issue the licenses, from the date that the application was completed. The amendment was passed by the committee. Another motion to make the amendment effective upon passage passed.

The bill unanimously passed out of the committee.

The committee also took up SB 2149 which allows the Department of Education to receive funding from MAEP based on the 2019-2020 Average Daily Attendance and not the ADA of 2020-21 school year.

This decision came given that since September 2020 roughly 20,000 students were unaccounted for, according to MDE’s reporting. Since then, that number has decreased as many have started returning to school for the first time since the pandemic began. However, because they were not counted when the ADA was calculated in the fall, schools could lose significant funding.

In the past, there have been discussions to use average daily membership for funding, but no changes have been made by the Legislature yet.

SB 2149 also passed the committee and heads to the Senate floor for consideration.