Pay increases come at a cost to taxpayers

By Steve Wilson
July 24, 2019

In last night’s Republican gubernatorial debate, both state Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. advocated increasing starting teacher pay in Mississippi to $40,000.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves countered that such an increase would cost $275 million annually. Using the same calculations used by the Mississippi Department of Education, the raise would add up to $210 million annually, still a large sum, according to an examination of figures by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

That’s an annual general fund appropriation that nearly equals or surpasses many outlays in the fiscal 2020 budget. These include:

  • Department of Mental Health — $213,668,778.
  • Total fiscal affairs — $142,994,685.
  • Judiciary and Justice — $103,055,629.
  • Military, police and veterans affairs (includes the state Department of Public Safety) — $114,441,495.
  • Total for agriculture and economic development — $111,441,416.

According to the MDE, the starting salary for the lowest certification level for a teacher was $34,390 and that will increase to $35,890 in the upcoming school year with the $1,500 increase passed this session by the legislature. This increase will cost taxpayers $76.9 million per year.

Since 2007, the average teacher salary in Mississippi has increased from $40,182 in 2007 to $44,926 in 2018, an 11.8 percent increase. The starting salary has grown from $30,900 in 2014 to $35,980 for this upcoming school year, an increase of 16.4 percent.

Both Waller and Foster said they wanted the state to meet or exceed the “southeastern average” and agreed that $40,000 would be a good starting salary. The average of the southeastern states is $36,688 and Mississippi is about $800 below that number.

StateBase teacher salary
South Carolina$33,148
North Carolina$37,631

Increasing teacher salaries above the $4,110 to get to a starting $40,000 wage would be even more costly. A $4,500 pay hike from last year’s starting salary would cost more than $230 million annually, while a $5,000 raise would add up to more than $256 million.

Salary hike Annual appropriation cost
$3,500 $179,407,359.25 
$4,110 $210,675,499.01 
$4,500 $230,666,604.75 

To arrive at the $76.9 million amount to cover the $1,500 pay raise, the MDE first multiplied the number of teachers by the amount of the raise. This product was multiplied by 25.05 percent to account for fringe benefits and added back to the original product for the appropriation total. 

The original number was incorrect because the MDE’s antiquated computer system only accounted for 31,157 teaching positions and this was later corrected to 40,991 positions after a review of data by the agency.

Since 2000, Mississippi teachers have received three salary hikes from the legislature. The first was a $337 million phased in over six years. In 2014, a two year, $100 million pay hike gave teachers $1,500 in the first year and $1,000 in the second.

Teachers in the state receive annual raises after their first three years on the job and also receive pay hikes for earning higher certifications. A teacher in the lowest certification level starts at $34,390, increasing to $39,108 for the highest certification level. 

A teacher with 20 years of experience will earn $43,300, while the highest classification nets $53,400.

The new starting salary given in the original story was incorrect. We regret the error.


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