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Teacher pay raise funding up for discussion

Gov. Phil Bryant

Gov. Phil Bryant

By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal

Some teachers and other staff in A and B schools, as well as in improving schools, could be getting a pay raise during the 2017 legislative session.

The School Recognition Program is part of the 2014 legislation that gave teachers a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase over a two-year period and raised the starting pay for teachers.

The program calls for A-level schools and those that increased a letter grade from the previous year to receive an additional $100 per student to go toward salaries. B schools would get an additional $75 per student. The schools receive a lump sum based on the amount of students, and school officials decide how best to distribute the funds among teachers and staff.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, have said they support the 2017 Legislature funding the program.

“This budget provides initial funding for the School Recognition Program,” the governor wrote in his narrative explaining his budget proposal that will be submitted to the 2017 Legislature.

Clay Chandler, a spokesman for Bryant, said the governor provides an extra $16.4 million for the program as part of the funds going to help local school districts pay for their basic operation.

Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Reeves, said the lieutenant governor “proposed the School Recognition Program as an innovative way to reward teachers for their efforts to raise student achievement. He will support the implementation of this program as the Legislature crafts a budget in 2017.”

Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who worked with Reeves, to develop the program, said, “We have requested the state Department of Education provide us numbers on the A and B schools and the ones that improved a letter grade.”

When the program was passed in 2014, it was estimated that it would have cost $24 million if enacted then. But with changes in the state’s accountability model for schools, the cost of the program will have changed and probably will be less.

The program allows the local schools to determine how the money will be divvied up. It does not have to be disbursed across the board and it does not have to go solely to teachers – though administrators are not eligible for the funds

Other employees in the school building, such as janitors, might be eligible to receive the funds.

“We were thinking of the team concept,” Tollison said.

It is likely that either the Legislature will add more specificity to the law during the 2017 session or instruct the state Board of Education to do so.

The law called for the funds to be appropriated each year based on the performance of the school. For instance, a B school that dropped to a C level would not receive the funds the next year and an A school that dropped to a B would receive $25 less per student.

The 2014 law also called for the Legislature to develop a method of rewarding “high-performing teachers” in C, D and F schools that otherwise would not be eligible for the School Recognition Program funds.

The Legislature has not yet accomplished that task.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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