JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators are making their opening bids on an increase in teacher pay, although there may be sweeter offers to come.
The House Education Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1349 , which proposes $500 increases in teacher salaries for each of the next two years, for a total of $1,000.
That would boost the starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree from $34,390 now to $35,390 beginning July 1, 2020.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Charles Busby of Pascagoula. It would also boost the long-frozen salaries of assistant teachers from $12,500 to $13,500 over the same two-year period.
The National Education Association, a teachers union, said Mississippi had the lowest average salary among the states at $42,925 in the 2016-2017 school year. The state Department of Education says the average teacher salary was a little higher, almost $45,000 in 2017-2018.
Teachers in states including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia have gone on strike during the past year to demand higher pay. Educators in Mississippi have shown no sign that they plan on doing the same.
Senate Bill 2770 proposes the same increases for teachers and assistants, but despite the apparent initial agreement between the chambers, it's unclear if that would be the last word on pay raises. House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Long Beach Republican, said discussion over the amount of the pay raise was likely to continue throughout the session.
"I'm hopeful that number is going to go up," Busby said, although he said he hadn't discussed the subject with House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Clinton Republican.
Kelly Riley, who is the executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, said $500 a year breaks down to only $41.66 a month before taxes.
"This minimalistic salary increase is a slap in the face to Mississippi's teachers who have the future of our state in their classrooms each day," Riley wrote in an email. "While we appreciate the legislature's consideration of a pay raise, any such raise must be significant and must place Mississippi in a competitive position for qualified teachers."
Not even all lawmakers were impressed with the amount.
"That is kind of embarrassing," said state Rep. Becky Currie, a Brookhaven Republican, during the committee meeting.
The House bill also includes proposals intended to alleviate a shortage of Mississippi teachers. One part of the plan would allow retired teachers to return to work at a somewhat lower salary while still drawing state pensions, which supporters said they hoped would help school districts fill more than 1,000 vacancies statewide.
"I think a lot of teachers want to come back and teach, but they want to collect their retirement," Bennett said. "I think this is good way to get them back in a school."
The current plan calls for school districts and returning retirees to pay into the Public Employees Retirement System. But returning teachers wouldn't get additional retirement credits, meaning they would be getting nothing for their contributions. Busby said he was likely to amend the bill to allow returning retirees to be hired as contractors, instead.