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Lawmakers at the State Capitol are closing in on the finish of the 2019 legislative session. Among the bills being considered are separate measures in the House and Senate involving pay raises for teachers.

The prevailing attitude among state lawmakers in Jackson appears to be that public school teachers and teacher assistants in Mississippi are deserving of some sort of a pay raise from the state’s portion of their paycheck.

Just how much that bump in salary will be is still at issue.

This week, the state House passed an amendment to Senate Bill 2770 made by Rep. Steve Holland (D-Tupelo) that would raise the state portion of teacher salaries by $4,000 over two years at a level of $2,000 per year.

It differs from the Senate measure passed in February that would increase the state offering by $1,000 over two years.

The original measure in the Senate passed Feb. 13 on a vote of 51-0 with state Sen. Terry Burton (R-Newton) either absent or not voting.

The bill then went to the House where Holland offered the amendment Monday and it was passed as amended that same day on a vote of 112-2 with four representatives not voting or absent. That quartet included state Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) and state Rep. Ashley Henley (R-Southaven).

State Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch) voted against the bill.

Now, the Senate either must agree to the change or the two sides will have to conference to iron out the differences in the measure.

State Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven) joined state Sens. Chris Massey (R-Nesbit) and David Parker (R-Olive Branch) among the additional authors to the original bill offered by state Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford).

Blackwell said he needed to examine the budget ramifications to a potential higher increase.

“We’re going to have to take a look at the money,” Blackwell said. “Typically in the budget process, we send something over and you anticipate what the budget hit is going to be. So, now they’ve increased that and now what were their intentions and where are we going to get the funds from? If we can establish that, it can be something that I can vote for.”

However, Blackwell admits that public school teachers and their assistants need more in their paychecks.

“There’s no doubt that we need to adjust the teacher pay raise,” said Blackwell. “It’s very low and I think we’re probably one of the lowest in our area. Not only for teachers, but for the teacher assistants that they have. They have an extremely low salary. I think all of us down here want to do something. It just gets to be a question of with ‘X’ pot of money and how do you spread that out?”

A 2018 report in the publication USA Today listed Mississippi public school teachers ranked 47th out of the 50 United States in teacher salaries with an annual median paycheck of $44,294. The state ranked the lowest in salary for all school workers at just over $30,000 annually.

Teachers have been pushing lawmakers for a higher pay raise, showing solidarity on social media with their #RedforEdMS posts and through a Wear Red for Ed day in late February. They hoped to raise awareness in pointing out that the average Mississippi teacher’s salary was $8,500 below the average for Southeastern states. The group feels the original Senate version of the bill is not acceptable.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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