The Mississippi Senate gave final approval Monday to legislation repealing a law that placed conditions on teacher pay raises. The Senate acted after the House took less than 20 minutes to approve the bill. It now goes to Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who is expected to act quickly to sign it into law.
``I am proud of Mississippi today,'' Musgrove told a news conference following the Senate vote. ``We just made history by making good on the promise to our teachers,'' said Musgrove, who was surrounded by educators. ``We have just helped shape our future.'' ``I think what this does is it says this is our No. 1 priority,'' Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Alice Harden, D-Jackson, said in arguing for passage. During the Senate debate, Harden was pressed about how the state could finance the pay package. ``We're just going to have to be creative in finding the funds and make it a priority,'' she said. The Senate vote was 45-3 in favor of the bill, while the house passed it 112-3. House members voting against it were Reps. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez; John Moore, R-Brandon; and Charlie Smith, I-Eupora.
During the brief debate, Ketchings raised questions about whether the state could afford to pass the $330 million, five-year pay raise. House Education Committee Chairman Joe Warren, D-Mount Olive, responded, ``I don't think we cannot afford not to.'' Lawmakers also passed a separate bill allocating $48,067 to pay for the special session. Before the session, about 25 members of the Mississippi Association of Teachers rallied outside the Capitol in support of the session agenda. Another two dozen Mississippi American Federation of Teacher members walked the Capitol halls. Canton High School biology teacher Tanya Mason, a member of the MAE, said she knows teachers who have switched to other professions because they can't make enough money in the classroom. She said she has considered such a move. ``I enjoy the kids. I know it's my calling,'' said Mason, 29. ``But, financially, it can't bring me the things I want out of life.'' Rep. Sarah Richardson Thomas, who spent 32 years as a teacher and school administrator, was among the lawmakers who supported removing the restrictions. ``Teaching is a 24-hour-a-day job,'' said Thomas, D-Indianola, who retired from Sunflower County public schools in 1995.