The 2019 legislative session came to an end last week and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn discussed the various bills that were passed. Among the more talked about items was a teacher pay raise, human trafficking legislation, shoring up the Public Employees Retirement System, the ‘Heartbeat’ bill, and the ‘Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act’.
After lengthy debates in both chambers regarding the final amount, of a teacher pay raise the bill to give teachers a $1,500 raise in the coming year passed. However, Gunn says there may still be some confusion on the issue.
“I think maybe people got confused because the initial bill that was filed was just a one time bonus, $500 this year, $500 next and that would be the end of it,” said Gunn. “That is not what we ended up passing. We advocated for and passed a permanent salary increase henceforth forevermore. It’s $1,500 every year from now on that teachers will get.”
While some are calling the teacher pay raise inadequate, he says he feels they did their best with the budget that they had to work with.
“Obviously we wish that we could do more,” said Gunn. “We always want to do more for our teachers. They are making great sacrifices on behalf of our state and our students, but we have to fund taxpayer priorities and we have a lot of priorities that we have to meet. This was the amount we were able to do this year.”
As a whole, the budget required attention to detail and at the forefront of the discussion was shoring up PERS.
In regards to the last minute addition of allocating $2 million for special needs scholarship accounts, Gunn says it was a Senate priority that was not shared by the House.
“The Senate felt like this was a priority for them,” said Gunn. “We did not share that view. We did not desire to put additional dollars in the ESA program but they wanted to, so they took some of those allocated dollars and put it into a bill that was important to them. It’s nothing more than a priority to them.”