Lawmakers in the Mississippi Legislature have mere hours left to reach a compromise on plans for a teacher-pay raise. In January, the Senate and House each passed bills that would raise pay for the state’s teachers by thousands, but with key differences.
Under the House bill, teachers would get pay raises ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 in one year. The Senate bill, which includes more long-term pay raises, would be implemented over the course of two years. The House bill awaits action in the Senate, while the Senate bill awaits action in the House.
Unless lawmakers advance at least one of the bills onto the House or Senate floor by 8 p.m. today, however, teachers could wind up without a pay raise at all this year, Parents Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome said.
“If this is truly a priority for both chambers, we would ask them to demonstrate that by passing these bills and getting a compromise version on the governor’s desk for his signature,” said Loome, whose organization lobbies on behalf of public school educators.
In both chambers, the appropriations and education committees must vote to advance the opposite chambers’ pay-raise bill today. The House Appropriations Committee met this morning but did not address the other chamber’s pay-raise bill. It is unclear whether the committee will meet again before the deadline this evening.
Rep. Kent McCarty, R-Hattiesburg, a co-sponsor of the House version, told the Mississippi Free Press yesterday that lawmakers in the House and Senate were working on a compromise. Once a deal is reached, he said, he expects lawmakers will amend one of the bills to include the changes and send it to their chamber’s floor for a vote.
“The two plans are similar in size as far as total cost. Ours in the House is all in one year, $220 million in one year, and the Senate is $214 million spread over two years,” McCarty said. “We would like to see all of that done in one year. We’ve got the money to do that, and I think that would be better for all teachers to do it in one year.”
Last week, McCarty and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, spoke to members of the Parents Campaign.
“Both of them said they were very much committed to seeing the bills all the way through the process and answered a lot of questions about compromise and a lot of our members pointed out things they liked in each bill,” Loome said.
The public-education lobbyist said that, if lawmakers failed to advance a teacher pay raise bill by today’s 8 p.m. deadline, lawmakers could still include a pay raise in a separate bill focused on national board certification issues—assuming that bill advances.
“That could potentially serve as a vehicle” if the other bills fail, McCarty said.
Loome raised concerns that a legislative battle between the House and Senate over whether to cut the state tax or eliminate it completely could be endangering the teacher pay raise, but McCarty said the two issues are unrelated. Lawmakers have simply taken time to reach a deal that melds the two pay raise bills together, he said.
“The reality is, we have two different pieces of legislation, and we want to have the best plan,” McCarty said. “I would love to see a plan come together that takes elements of both, and I think, like on most things, somewhere in the middle is a good spot to be.”