By Toren Ballard I Director of K-12 Policy
With a wild 2022 legislative session finally coming to a close, we thought it would be helpful to summarize the ideas that survived the legislative process. Teacher pay and the controversial “critical race theory” bill have dominated headlines in recent months, but the 2022 legislative session also produced a number of lesser-known education bills that will impact K-12 education in Mississippi. Read on to learn more about all the bills that became law and how they might affect educators and students.
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We created this one-pager to give you a comprehensive understanding of what happened during the 2022 legislative session.
You may have heard that teachers are getting a raise this year. Thanks to unrelenting advocacy from teachers and their supporters, the legislature passed and funded House Bill 530, which reshapes the salary schedule for public school teachers and provides an average raise of $5,151 for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. The law also requires a $2,000 raise for assistant teachers. The teacher raise launches Mississippi above the regional average for starting salary and will serve as a much-needed incentive to attract new educators into the profession as well as retain veterans.
Mississippi public school teachers may also see some changes to how and when they get paid: Senate Bill 2424* gives school districts the option to pay teachers on a bi-monthly (twice a month) basis while Senate Bill 2422* will ensure that teachers receive procurement cards—which allow them to purchase school supplies using a predetermined amount of state funds—by the beginning of the school year. Bi-monthly payments (for those in districts who opt-in) will be a welcome change for educators who currently receive just one paycheck a month, while an earlier deadline for procurement cards should reduce the need for teachers to spend money on school supplies just to have them in time.
Included in the teacher pay bill was also a provision to remove caps on the number of salary supplements available to school nurses and speech pathologists who have earned National Board Certification. Board-certified athletic trainers will also be eligible for these supplements, which are worth at least $6,000 annually.
Changes to teacher licensure are not nearly as momentous as teacher pay, but House Bill 1388 will offer teachers a grab bag of minor improvements to the licensure process (in addition to changes to curriculum and standardized testing, which we discuss below). Perhaps most significantly, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) will now be required to grant and renew teaching licenses within 21 days of receiving a completed application (provided that the applicant has met all requirements). This should drastically speed up the licensure process for teachers, particularly in the high-demand summer months leading up to a school year.
Teachers should also be able to more easily earn supplemental endorsements to their license, giving teachers and their districts more flexibility in what courses they can teach. MDE is now tasked with establishing standards to expand pathways for teachers to earn supplemental endorsements on their license—including, in particular, a test-based pathway for certain endorsements that teachers can earn by simply achieving a minimum score on a relevant subject assessment (rather than taking a certain amount of semester hours).
Other tweaks to teacher licensure include extending license reciprocity to teachers licensed in another country, as well as easing eligibility and extending expiration dates for the existing “Expert Citizen” teaching license. Though somewhat limited in their impact, these two changes should allow Mississippi to license some additional teachers in the coming years.
Senate Bill 2113—the bill purporting to “prohibit critical race theory” that doesn’t actually include the words “critical race theory” (CRT)—was the first education bill to be signed into law in 2022. Yet, despite strong statements from supporters and opponents alike, the actual text of the law is unremarkable, and its impact will ultimately depend on whether people read and implement the plain language of the law or what they believe it might say (a problem which we argue in this analysis can be mitigated by stronger social studies standards).
In addition to the CRT bill, the legislature passed two other curriculum-related bills. House Bill 1388, in addition to the licensure changes mentioned above, rewrites the course unit requirements for Career and Technical Education (CTE) students in a confusing manner. Although it requires each student to take the 24 “course unit requirements for a regular high school diploma,” it lists required courses that students’ education “may include, but not be limited to.” It then gives districts some flexibility in tailoring a program. Depending on how this language is interpreted, it may lead to different requirements for CTE and non-CTE students. MDE will need to provide regulations that explain the parameters of this new flexibility.
More students with developmental disabilities will be eligible to enter a university-based program (UBP) to receive their K-12 education at a public Institution of Higher Learning (IHL) in lieu of a traditional public school district as a result of House Bill 881*. This new law expands the definition of children who may participate in such programs, which will likely increase enrollment.
Some districts may be able to access interest-free loans for facilities repairs and maintenance through the newly created Educational Facilities Revolving Loan Fund Program. Senate Bill 2430* creates this new program as a replacement for the largely defunct State Public School Building Fund. Districts will be able to apply for up to $1 million in loans annually to pay for repairs on existing facilities, construction of new facilities related to pre-K and CTE, or to pay down debt from bonds or notes issued within the last five years. However, because the entire loan fund will only receive $1.67 million in funding each month, there will be limited funds to loan on a monthly basis, reducing the availability of loans through this program.
Children in foster care will now be eligible for a new in-state postsecondary scholarship. The Fostering Access and Inspiring True Hope (FAITH) Scholarship program, created by House Bill 1313*, will offer scholarship awards to students under 25 years of age who were in foster care after the age of 13. Awards may be worth up to the cost of attendance at public IHLs, public community colleges, and private not-for-profit IHLs (awards for students at private colleges will be capped at the average cost of attendance at public IHLs). This may allow students formerly in foster care to attend college for free, though the number of awards and award amounts will vary based on annual appropriations and demand.
The 2022 legislative session produced one change to Mississippi’s statewide accountability system and uniform statewide testing program: a career-readiness assessment will now be included as an optional assessment that would count towards districts’ letter grades. House Bill 1388, which makes this change, may simply codify a change that MDE made to the list of eligible assessments last year. Until MDE takes further regulatory action, the impact of this change is difficult to determine.
*As of April 14, these bills are awaiting the Govenvor’s signature.