Sam R. Hall: Gunn banking lots of political capital

House Speaker Philip Gunn is shrewdly building a political base throughout the state with his support of legislation that historically has not enjoyed GOP backing.

Gunn came out early in support of a teacher pay raise. His initial announcement was met with strong skepticism from both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both of whom said they supported the expansion of a merit pay system over an across-the-board pay raise.

Gunn, however, did not back down. Instead, he doubled-down, saying that while he supported merit pay, he believed teachers were long past due a pay raise that would help bring the average teacher salary in Mississippi closer to that of neighboring states. If we’re going to demand more from teachers, he reasoned, we have to be willing to pay them more as well.

It was Gunn who brokered a deal in the House to pass a teacher pay raise, one that admittedly came with strings attached. It gave automatic pay raises to teachers with less than five years of service — the timeframe during which teachers are most likely to drop out of the profession — while those with more than five years had to meet three out of 22 criteria. The criteria, however, are so broadly defined that most teachers likely already meet them.

Clarion Ledger
2/22/14