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Mississippi lt. governor: Teacher pay a priority in 2021

December 29, 2020 GMT
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Mississippi Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann expresses his continued concern over COVID-19 and explained measures the Senate will take to protect themselves and staff during the upcoming 2021 Legislature, during a briefing to media at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. The on-line briefing allowed Hosemann to answer questions from reporters across the state in a clean environment at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Mississippi Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann expresses his continued concern over COVID-19 and explained measures the Senate will take to protect themselves and staff during the upcoming 2021 Legislature, during a briefing to media at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. The on-line briefing allowed Hosemann to answer questions from reporters across the state in a clean environment at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Tuesday that giving teachers a pay raise will be the most important issue he pushes during the 2021 legislative session that opens next week.

The state has had some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation for generations. According to the most recent figures available from the Southern Regional Education Board, the average teacher salary in the U.S. for 2018-19 was $62,304. For Mississippi, the average was $45,105.

Hosemann is a Republican entering his second year as lieutenant governor. He pushed for a teacher pay raise during the 2020 session, but that effort fell short after the coronavirus pandemic started and caused uncertainty about state spending.

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“I think you’ll see a teacher pay raise coming from the Senate again,” Hosemann told reporters Tuesday. “It got COVID-ed last year with the pandemic, and we had to make a 5% cut in our budget.”

Republicans control both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature. The state Senate passed a bill in early February to provide a $1,000 pay raise to most teachers and teachers’ assistants. The plan would have given raises of $1,100 to teachers in the first two years of their careers.

Hosemann said the Senate will start the 2021 session with the same teacher pay raise proposal as last year. Once legislators get a longer look at how state tax collections are faring during the first few months of 2021, they might start discussing future compensation packages for teachers “that are respectful of the work that those people do,” Hosemann said.

“If there’s anybody whose poll numbers have risen over the last year it’s teachers,” Hosemann said. “Moms and dads who have struggled with teaching math or whatever to their children, I think have a newfound appreciation for what a teacher is.”

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn told reporters Dec. 7 that he did not know whether the House will consider a teacher pay raise during the 2021 session. The first set of spending recommendations released by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that day did not include a raise.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves did not include a teacher pay raise in his own budget proposal. He has pushed legislators to keep putting money into a school recognition program that provides extra money for teachers in high-performing school districts or in districts that make significant academic improvements from one year to the next. A legislative watchdog group said in a recent report that officials won’t have up-to-date information for the recognition program during the 2021 session because the pandemic prompted the cancelation of school assessments during the spring of 2020.

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Legislators have until late March to agree on a final state spending plan, and the new budget year begins July 1.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.