This week’s vote in the Mississippi House of Representatives, which raises public school teacher and teacher assistant salaries in the state, may shape up to be a hot-button issue in the next legislative elections. Not because of who voted for the pay raise, but rather what DeSoto County legislators did not vote for the bill.
House Bill 530, called the “Strategically Accelerating the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers (START) Act of 2022,” raises the state portion of teacher salaries on average by about $5,100 annually, starting with the 2022-23 school year. Teacher assistants would see a $2,000 annual hike in the state portion of their paycheck. It is the largest pay raise increase for Mississippi teachers in the state’s history and would now put their average salary to from the bottom to above the national average.
The conference report agreed to by conferees with the Senate and House was passed without opposition by the Senate on March 17 and sent to the House for its vote.
Differing versions of the pay increase bill were initially passed by the Senate and House, requiring the conference committee to reach a compromise before it went back to the different houses for an up-and-down vote.
The conference report was not considered by the House until Tuesday, when it was passed on a vote of 118-4. However, state Rep. Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven) Wednesday asked that his vote be changed to “no,” making the official tally 117-5.
DeSoto County legislators who did vote in favor of HB 530 included Rep. Jerry Darnell, Rep. Jeff Hale, Rep. Dan Eubanks, Rep. Bill Kinkade, and Rep. Hester Jackson-McCray. All are Republicans with the exception of Jackson-McCray, who is a Democrat.
The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves for his signature and he has promised to sign a bill moving Mississippi average instructor salaries out from the bottom of the national averages.
Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch) initially voted against the teacher pay raise increase. Now, his vote and Hopkins’ change to a “no” vote are being spotlighted by bill supporters in DeSoto County as reasons they should not be reelected, if they are running, in the next 2023 election.
Both are part of the ultra-conservative Mississippi Freedom Caucus, which is strongly against tax increases. Eubanks, while he voted for the pay raise, is also a part of the Freedom Caucus, Hopkins chairs the group and Criswell is vice-chairman of the Freedom Caucus, which lists six legislators as members.
All five Mississippi Freedom Caucus members, with the exception of Eubanks, accounted for the five negative votes in the House.
The response to the no vote has come out sharp and strong, especially in the educational community of DeSoto County, with many calling for long memories against Criswell and Hopkins in the next election.
The following was also found on Facebook to show who the legislators were, how they voted, and who they represent:
Also among the social media responses Thursday, former Southaven alderman William Brooks posted on his Facebook page about the vote, in particular Hopkins’ change to opposing the pay raise. The comments in the post, which include comments from Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite, are all strongly against the votes of Criswell and Hopkins, with his change.
DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton chose to push his gratitude for the support from the legislators who voted for HB 530 on his Twitter account, listing them specifically.
How this translates into the 2023 state legislative election when House members are up for re-election remains to be seen. But those rising up against Criswell and Hopkins on their votes may speak loud and long, if they follow through at the ballot box.