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In Mississippi, Talk of 'Giant Step Forward'

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Fulfilling a major campaign promise, Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi has asked the legislature to approve a $114-million pay increase for elementary- and secondary-school teachers.

Overall, Mr. Mabus is seeking an increase of $108.7 million--or 17.5 percent--in precollegiate-education spending for fiscal year 1989, which begins July 1.

Like his recent predecessors, the newly inaugurated Governor stressed the importance of educational improvement to the state's economic development in his State of the State address last month.

"We entrust our most valuable asset--our children--to the teachers of this state," he said in proposing the raises. "And our children are our future."

Mr. Mabus said his teacher-pay proposal would raise salary levels for Mississippi teachers from their traditional place near the bottom of the national rankings.

Approval of the plan, he said, would be "a giant step forward, one which will bring favorable national attention to Mississippi."

The average teacher's salary currently ranks 49th among the 50 states, Mr. Mabus noted.

His proposal would bring the state up to 34th, and to 6th among the 12 Southeastern states.

According to Mr. Mabus, his proposal would result in an average pay increase of $3,700.

Experienced teachers with advanced academic degrees could qualify for raises of up to $6,000. Governor Mabus predicted that the bulk of the money needed to finance the raises would come from a dramatic increase in state revenues resulting from economic growth and a crackdown on tax evaders.

To provide the remainder of the needed funds, he proposed that the state redirect money from its highway-repair budget, revise the payment schedule for state bonds, speed up collection of the state's insurance tax, and make unspecified cuts in management expenses in the education budget.

Some legislative leaders have criticized the pay proposal, saying that the package would force a major tax increase next year.--wm

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