House leaders, for the second straight year on a key deadline day, killed a Senate bill, essentially forcing Senate leaders to pass a Internal invoice be used as a vehicle to provide Mississippi teachers with a pay raise.
Leaders of both chambers have argued that their bill should be used for the pay raise.
For much of Tuesday, the last day to pass the other chamber’s omnibus bills out of committee, leaders of both chambers played chicken over who would blink first and take the bill on the remuneration of the teachers of the other chamber.
“We have two Senate (teacher compensation bills) in the House,” said Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, who held a series of statewide meetings last year on the issue of teachers’ salaries. “This is the Senate’s No. 1 priority.
Late Tuesday afternoon, after passing the House bill to ensure a teacher pay raise remains in effect through the 2022 session, DeBar said, “The bottom line is that teachers are the winners. here today. The way politics is played out here is only reducing our ability to attract teachers… We need to fix this and move on.
But House Education president Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, countered: “Our priority was a teacher pay raise – that was our first bill – and their priority was medical marijuana as our first bill.
“It was our first bill that we passed and sent out early and frankly, it should be on the governor’s desk by now.”
After the House adjourned for the day without calling committee meetings to consider the Senate bill, Senate leaders, instead of letting all teacher compensation proposals die, chose to consider the House bill. Yet the Senate placed its tongue in the House bill.
Ultimately, no one outside of Mississippi’s ornate Capitol cares much about whether the bill that will deliver the biggest pay raise for teachers since the early 2000s is a House bill or a Senate bill. Still, the song-and-dance routine illustrates the current level of division as leaders eye each other over whether the Senate will pass Speaker Philip Gunn’s massive tax cut that will eliminate about a third of general fund revenue in years future.
A similar song and dance took place last session when House leaders killed a Senate pay raise bill, forcing the Senate to pass the House bill. The 2021 legislation gave teachers a raise of about $1,000 a year.
In 2021, it was apparent to many that the House was trying to use the teacher compensation plan as leverage to secure passage of Gunn’s tax cut proposal.
On whether he thinks this year’s stalemate was due to the income tax cut, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said: “You have to ask the House to this subject.”
Hosemann continued “Sen. DeBar reached out to the House, and I reached out to the House on this, and they adjourned and went home. Senator DeBar has shown great leadership in making sure teachers don’t become pawns in another game… He showed Job’s patience.
But Gunn said the House wanted his proposal to pass because “our bill is better on a number of factors.” He said it offered a bigger and more immediate raise.
The House plan would increase teachers’ starting salaries by $37,000 a year to $43,125. That would put Mississippi above the Southeast average of $39,754 and the national average of $41,163. The Senate plan would raise the starting salary to $40,000, but also offer substantial raises at five-year intervals throughout a teacher’s career.
Both plans would cost about $220 million per year, however, the House plan would be enacted in one year while the Senate proposal would be phased in over two years. The Senate plan includes a year two, $44 million general increase of $1,000 per teacher. The House plan includes a $2,000 increase for teacher aides, which were not included in the original Senate plan.
“I’m not willing to pass a bill – when we’ve told teachers to wait until next year, wait until next year – where there are millions withheld that they’re not getting. before the second year, an election year,” Bennett said. . “…Teachers need all the money this year. We have the money and they don’t have to wait.
Bennett added, “The way the (Senate) scale worked, we wouldn’t hit the Southeast average or the national average. With the House bill, we do.
Both plans would “restructure” the teacher pay scale which determines the pay of teachers at different levels of experience and training. The house plan would call for more immediate increases ranging from $4,000 to $6,000. The Senate’s plan after two years would call for an average raise of $4,700, but would provide for larger salary increases at each five-year interval in a teacher’s career. On Tuesday, the Senate also added language calling for a $2,000 increase over two years for teacher aides.
Mississippi’s teacher salary by several measures is the lowest in the nation. Mississippi public education advocates spent much of Tuesday watching the one-upmanship game being played by House and Senate leaders.
“We are certainly encouraged by senators who stand up and be leaders for the state,” Antonio Castanon Luna, executive director of the Mississippi Educators Association, whose members he says include 10% of classroom teachers of State. He said the pay rise will help teachers fight inflation and be able to stay in class.
And in the end, he admitted it didn’t matter whether the pay raise was a Senate bill or a House bill.
“For us, it’s about students having quality teachers,” he said.
Kelly Riley, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Mississippi, said, “We were very frustrated today that the House let both Senate pay raise bills die. We very much appreciate the statesmanship and the leadership of the Senate. Today’s actions from the Senate, and the absence of them from the House, have sent a clear message to educators across the state as to who truly puts the teachers and children of our State.
It is more than likely that the final teacher compensation plan will be crafted by legislative leaders in the final days of the session and will include elements of plans proposed by the Senate and House. But the final plan will be a House bill instead of a Senate bill.
That matters to some on Capitol Hill, but the bottom line for teachers is whether they get a pay raise. And after a chaotic Tuesday, their pay raise was still on track in the 2022 legislative session.