Teachers get their way
July 25, 2001
Mississippi's public school teachers don't have to worry any more about their pay raises over the next five years being tied to anything. The Legislature's quick action to eliminate the so-called 5 percent clause guarantees teacher pay hikes no matter the state of the state's economy.
Legislators had previously linked teachers' pay raises to the state's economic growth. As it turned out, the linkage helped convince reluctant lawmakers to approve the initial year of the pay raise during their 2000 session. Now, thanks to a two-hour special session of the Legislature that cost taxpayers about $47,760, the connection between teacher pay and economic growth is gone.
State officials are working to lift the average salaries of Mississippi's teachers to the projected Southeastern average by the 2005-06 school year. That figure is $41,000 a year and the goal is admirable.
Many people in Mississippi continue to believe that the quality of education has a direct bearing on the quality of the workforce and, hence, economic growth. Many also believe teacher pay is but one of a myriad of issues that influence education.
Will higher pay make better teachers? That remains to be seen. Will higher pay now be followed by a renewed emphasis on making teachers more accountable for how well their students learn? That remains to be seen.
What we know today is that by taking the action they took, Mississippi's lawmakers essentially conceded making a huge mistake with the 5 percent clause. And, while the political fallout rains down on Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, House Speaker Tim Ford and members of the Legislature, the fundamental question remains unanswered: Will higher pay for teachers translate into an improvement in the overall quality of education in Mississippi's public schools?
A lot of people will be watching and waiting for the answer.