Speaker Right on Teacher Pay

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn is right. Mississippi public school teachers deserve pay raises.

“I believe that the overwhelming majority of our teachers are performing remarkably well,” Gunn posted on his Facebook page. “Now is the time to reward those teachers with a pay raise.”

“I want to make sure we put more money into the classroom,” Gunn told reporters who cover the Capitol. “We see the need and importance of that.”

A former school board member in Clinton, Gunn has staked out a position not enthusiastically embraced by his fellow Republican leaders, Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves.

Bryant opposes across-the-board teacher pay raises, preferring a merit pay system. “It does our educational system – and more importantly our students – a disservice for a dedicated, effective teacher to earn the same salary as a teacher who does the bare minimum,” he said.

Reeves is concerned about the cost of a pay raise as well as teacher performance. “A $1,000 raise across the board would cost $30 million,” he said. “While many of our teachers are deserving of a pay raise, the concern I would have is that some teachers in the classroom are not doing a particularly good job.”

Gunn responded at a recent Stennis Institute of Government luncheon. “I don’t want to pay bad teachers,” he said, but noted it would take time to adopt and implement a merit pay system. “In the meantime, we have a large pool of good teachers who haven’t had a raise in seven years.”

Others point to Mississippi’s relatively low average pay for teachers, second lowest in the nation, as a reason for an across-the-board increase.

But there are other good reasons, too.

As Blueprint Mississippi emphasizes, Mississippi’s economic future depends upon improved schooling. Fundamental to that is attracting and keeping good teachers. Mississippi schools are implementing the new Common Core standards. Retaining good teachers through this transition is crucial. Not paying any teachers more because a few are bad undermines both.

Then there is the simple fact that teaching in Mississippi is no piece of cake. From poorly prepared students who don’t care to learn, to schools with lax discipline (you’d be surprised at some on this list), to unruly and disrespectful students and parents, to safety concerns, to more frequent turmoil from principal/assistant principal turnover, the work environment for many if not most teachers is, to say the least, not conducive to learning. Low pay and poor working conditions do not make for great outcomes.

Yes, as the Speaker says, we need to weed out bad teachers, but we need to attract and retain good teachers more. Better pay is a necessary step. Better working conditions should be next.

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