Committee

Education

Author

Jansen Owen

Session

2024 Session

Passed House committee(s); awaiting House floor action

Latest Action


On February 28, the House Education Committee passed HB 73. It now awaits a vote on the House floor. 

Explanation of the Bill


House Bill 73 would transfer responsibility of employing School Attendance Officers (SAOs) from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to local school districts. It would also raise the minimum salary for SAOs from $24,500 to $30,000 and provide a raise for current SAOs. Under HB 73, the state would provide funding for one SAO for every 3,000 students in a given district.

SAOs are responsible for enforcing the Mississippi Compulsory School Attendance Law in local school districts, meaning these employees are tasked with everything from making home visits to appearing in court for truancy cases. Though SAOs work in school districts, they are currently employed by MDE. There is a statutory cap of 153 SAOs—roughly matching the number of districts throughout the state—though, in practice, there are numerous vacancies for these positions and many SAOs work at multiple school districts with caseloads as high as 10,000 students per SAO. Vacancies have been attributed both to stagnant pay and significant caseloads.

Under HB 73, local school districts would be responsible for employing SAOs, though MDE would employ regional coordinators to “support and provide technical assistance and professional development” to SAOs (similar to the current role of SAO supervisors). SAOs working for districts with charter schools in their geographic limits would also be responsible for students attending those charter schools. The state would maintain the responsibility of funding SAOs by providing funding directly to school districts for one SAO for every 3,000 students. Districts could provide additional compensation to supplement the state-mandated minimum salary, and they could also choose to hire additional SAOs with their own funds (the statewide cap of 153 SAOs would be deleted under HB 73).

HB 73 would scrap the existing step-and-lane salary schedule for SAOs in favor of a flat-rate minimum salary for all SAOs, regardless of qualifications or experience. The new minimum salary of $30,000 would represent a 22.3% increase over the current starting salary for SAOs with a bachelor’s degree ($24,528.29), though this would technically be a decrease for SAOs with certain qualifications and years of experience (e.g., an SAO with a master’s degree in behavioral science and over 21 years of experience earns a minimum salary of $37,413.59). However, HB 73 would require current SAOs (meaning those employed during the 2023-2024 school year) to be paid 25% over the new minimum salary ($37,500). In effect, while the new minimum salary could limit future salary increases for SAOs, it would provide every current SAO with a raise ranging from $12,971.71 to $86.41.

Providing funding for SAOs on a per-student basis would likely reduce caseloads for SAOs, though transferring responsibility to local school districts could lead to some variation in implementation. Additionally, raising the minimum salary and providing a guaranteed raise to current SAOs would likely improve recruitment and retention, though this impact could diminish over time if there are no future pay raises.

HB 73 has been referred to the House Education Committee, where it awaits a vote.

DateDetails
1/17/24On January 17, HB 17 was referred to the House Education Committee.
2/28/24On February 28, the House Education Committee passed HB 73.