Public school teachers in DeSoto County and across the state of Mississippi should expect to see some increase in their salaries from the state next school year, although it will likely be not as much as they were hoping to see.
The teacher pay raise bill passed both houses of the state Legislature Thursday and was sent for Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature, one day ahead of the final gavel being sounded to end the 2019 regular session, which took place Friday.
The final conference report which lawmakers approved would give public school teachers in Mississippi a raise of $1,500 in salary from the state side of their paycheck for next school year, beginning July 1.
The conference was needed due to separate bills being passed in their respective chambers. The Senate had originally approved a $1,000 raise phased in at $500 per year for two years.
Meanwhile, the House passed a $4,000 raise in pay, spread out in $2,000 phases over two years. The final report had the $1,500 figure for just this coming year.
The final conference report was adopted in the House Thursday by a 95-21 margin. Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch) voted against adoption of the conference report.
In the Senate, all three DeSoto County senators voted in favor of the conference report compromise, which passed on a 45-2 vote.
Teacher assistant salaries are also affected by the bill.
State Sen. David Parker (R-Olive Branch) did come out in support of the $4,000 raise and attempted to recommit the conference report back for further review.
As Parker told his social media followers, “During debate, Senator Simmons made a motion to send the bill back for further study. I agreed that by submission back we could add another $500 this year and leave the door open for another raise next year to meet the goal I have been working toward this session.”
Despite his vote to recommit the bill back to conference, the motion failed and while it was not the amount Parker said he was seeking, he voted for the $1,500 raise as a “step in the right direction.”
“Over the past five years my commitment has been to continue to raise teacher pay to meet the region average,” Parker said. “We have been able to make step increases totaling $5,000 per year plus merit pay but still have work to do. I will continue this work until this goal is met.”
State Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven) also stated Friday afternoon he was not completely satisfied by the final result.
“For my position, it was not enough, but it was the best we could do, given our economic situation,” Blackwell said. “I know a lot of teachers are disappointed and there are a lot of legislators that are disappointed. The fact is it is going to be an estimated $55 million hit on the budget and it’s not this year, but every year going forward. Our revenue projections are above projections and hopefully they continue. If they do, I believe we’re going to revisit a pay raise again next year.”
Blackwell said he would like to see the state look at raising the starting salary for teachers to get them more in line with other states in the region.
“We’re significantly lower than the surrounding states,” Blackwell said. “We need to attract and retain good teachers.”
State educators and advocates for teachers in Mississippi have expressed displeasure in the final outcome and groups were pushing legislators to adopt the House version of the bill instead of the Senate side.
After Thursday’s vote on teacher salaries, lawmakers finalized their business Friday and left the State Capitol, having approved a balanced budget of $6.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2020. It does not include any tax increases and sets aside tax dollars in the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund.
It did include a three-percent salary increase for state employees who are in job classifications with salaries not comparable to the relevant market rate.
“This is a conservative budget that prioritizes public education at all levels and supports our law enforcement and military programs,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Blackwell also highlighted the state employee raises and other moves that he said, “helps give everybody a little bit.”
Spending on public safety grew by $15.2 million, including support for a training school for new troopers and drivers’ services. Child Protective Services will receive another $15.7 million to serve children in foster care.
Among the bills that passed this session are the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, one of the first measures signed by Gov. Bryant. It allows electric cooperatives in the state, such as Northcentral Electric Power Association in Olive Branch, to be able to offer broadband services to its members.
Another bill passed and signed by Gov. Bryant is the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, which prevents abortions from taking place after a heartbeat has been detected in the unborn fetus. It is one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country and the Center for Reproductive Rights has already said it would challenge the law in court.
Bills addressing human trafficking, and expanding drug court programs were also among the measures passed in the legislative session.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.