Thomas Howard: Teachers deserve adequate pay

By THOMAS HOWARD,

Last week, Mississippi lawmakers advanced a bill to give public school teachers a much-needed raise, a highly anticipated and widely popular move to combat a massive teacher shortage plaguing our state.  Mississippi, like with many other statistical reports, ranks near the bottom in teacher and assistant teacher salaries, something lawmakers have avoided mentioning as they heap blame upon beleaguered K-12 teachers for less-than-flawless assessments and continue only partially funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program each year.

At the beginning of the legislative session, several bills to increase teacher pay were introduced, prompting celebrations from education conglomerates, school officials and teacher representatives. Over the media storm of exaltation for our state leaders, however, I was dismayed to hear Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves tack on a conditional, “if we can find it in the budget” to his support for the salary increase.

“If we can find it in the budget” is the political version of the “we’ll see” many recall hearing from their parents growing up. “If we can find it in the budget” means the politician doesn’t want to lose his or her constituents’ support by coming out against a wildly popular piece of legislation but doesn’t want to pass the bill either. “If we can find it in the budget” means no.

The bill that made it out of committee was a slap in the face. While multiple bills were introduced, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 pay increases for teachers, the one that made it out of committee gave teachers the bare minimum, $500 per year for two years, less than $10 per week. After taxes, increases to health insurance and inflation over the 4 years since the last pay raise, teachers will be getting a raise worth maybe a dollar menu cheeseburger.

Of course, nothing is set in stone, and I’m still holding out a little glimmer of hope some legislators will see the shear insanity of expecting Mississippi’s teachers to prepare the next generation while holding down second and third jobs to make ends meet and amend the bill to something more reasonable. I’m also hoping the legislature will fully fund MAEP for the first time since they passed it almost 20 years ago. I’m also hoping that flying pig doesn’t knock over my desk lamp.

Look, it’s not that hard of a concept to grasp. Educators are some of the most important people in our state, who’ve worked tirelessly to give children the tools they need to thrive despite chaotic rule changes and dwindling funds. Mississippi’s teachers need a raise. More than that, Mississippi’s teachers deserve a raise. It’s called common decency. I wish there was more of that in the budget.

 

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