Gov. Tate Reeves, members of the media and other politicians are touting the $246 million teacher pay raise passed this session of the Mississippi Legislature as the largest in state history.
“The largest teacher and assistant teacher pay raise in Mississippi history is now law,” the governor proclaimed on social media.
Often, people lose perspective and are caught in the moment when they proclaim something is the best, biggest or most significant in history. But in terms of sheer dollars, it is true that the proposal approved during the 2022 legislative session is the largest single year pay raise for Mississippi’s kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in the state’s history.
But there are many nuances to the claim “largest in state history.” Through the history of the state, despite being known for perennially poor pay for teachers, there have been significant salary bumps for Mississippi’s kindergarten through 12th grade instructors.
The pay raise passed this session provides teachers an average increase of $5,140, costing $246 million annually.
On social media, Ray Mabus, who served as governor of the state from 1988 until 1992 and later served as U.S. Navy secretary, said he did not see how the pay raise passed this year could be the largest in state history.
“We passed an average $4,400 pay raise in 1988. Adjusted for inflation, the raise today to be the largest would have to be an average of $10,000 or more,” Mabus said on social media.
According to the Associated Press, the 1988 legislation increased teacher pay on average 18% compared to more than 10% for the current raise.
In the 2000 session, at the behest of then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, the Legislature approved a multi-year, $338 million pay raise that was fully enacted in 2005. At the time, the raise increased teacher pay from an average of $31,892 per year to $41,445 or an increase of 30%, according to reporting by the New York Times from the 2000s.
And earlier, starting in 1997, the Legislature under then-Gov. Kirk Fordice approved a three-year raise totaling an average of $1,297 when fully enacted.
In the 2014 session, during the first term when Republicans controlled both chambers, the Legislature approved a $2,500 pay raise spread out over two years, and then a $1,500 raise in 2019 and a roughly $1,000 raise in 2021.
The point is that the 1988 and 2000 pay raises were at least as significant as this year’s effort by the Mississippi Legislature.
That is not to diminish or downplay the efforts of the current Legislature. Legislators are to be commended. But the fact is that in the coming years — not too far in the future — the Legislature most likely will pass another raise that can be called the largest in history. After all, almost every year legislators tout they have appropriated the most money in history for education. They never go on to add that they also have approved the largest overall budget in the state’s history.
But that is what happens with inflation. Just like in the private sector, inflation drives costs up.
State Economist Corey Miller said recently that wages and salaries grew by 7.2% in 2021. Considering recent wage growth and inflation, it would be almost surprising if the Legislature did not pass the largest pay raise in state history this year.
And it could be asked why it took so long after that watershed pay raise of 2000 for the Legislature to again approve such a significant proposal for teachers.
After all, almost every politician elected since 2000 has spoken of the importance of education and of teachers to the state.
The proof of that commitment might not be this year’s admittedly significant — even historic raise — but what happens going forward. Every politician from Reeves to most legislators said this year’s pay raise was only the beginning in terms of the state’s commitment to public education.
Said Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, “We want to continue this. It will not be the end.”
That continuance, if it occurs, could indeed be historic.
But at some point, that commitment also will have to include more than the level funding that legislators continue to budget for the other aspects of public schools. After all, schools’ costs for gasoline, utilities and other items also are increasing.
Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org