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Lawmakers discuss plans for teacher pay with educators in Mississippi
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Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leakesville, addresses committee members during a teacher pay hearing at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Lawmakers in Mississippi are sharing their plans to raise teacher pay with educators from across the state. They are searching for ways to provide higher wages and incentivize Mississippians to seek careers in education.

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Lawmakers in Mississippi are working on a bill that would allow the state to continue raising teacher pay in the upcoming 2022 legislative session, and leaders are discussing their thoughts with the public through a series of listening sessions.

Senator Dennis Debar of Leakesville chairs the Senate Education Committee. He says Mississippi has relatively higher wages for teachers nearing retirement, however teachers entering the profession have below average salaries.

“And so when we do a pay raise, we should look at trying to frontload the scheduled salaries,” says DeBar. “Not only will this help with retaining our teachers or trying to get students to actually into the college of education to become teachers, that this will overall help reduce our critical shortage of teachers from around the state.”

Teachers and school leaders attended the meeting in person and virtually, and one audience member asked how the state could raise teacher pay while also eliminating the state income tax.

There has been growing support for its elimination among conservative lawmakers, chiefly Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn and Governor Tate Reeves. However, DeBar says he is not sure how the elimination of the income tax could affect the ability to raise teacher pay.

“I’m concerned about eliminating a third of our state budget and having no security or no backfall. Just cutting $2 billion from our budget and not having backup to where that money is going to come from,” says Debar. I mean, some of the economists say it can be replaced and so forth and that may be correct, but I just don’t know.”

The final listening session will be held next month in Madison.