This week, the Senate Education Committee hosted hearings on the teacher pay raise. We submitted public comment which included three strategies.
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Strategy #1: Provide a $3,300 across-the-board teacher pay raise over three years
Governor Tate Reeves has proposed an immediate $1,300 bump to the teacher salary schedule in the 2022 legislative session as well as a pair of $1,000 raises in the next two fiscal years. We fully endorse this proposal, which, building off the raise legislators provided earlier this year, would likely put the average teacher salary in Mississippi above $51,000 by the 2024-2025 school year. While legislators should consider how regional states—many of which currently have average salaries around $51,000—will also work to remain competitive, there are some clear, immediate benefits to raising teacher pay in this manner:
- Incentive for new teachers to come to Mississippi: Depending on the rate of salary increases across the region, the starting salary for Mississippi teachers could surpass the Southeastern average as early as the 2023-2024 school year.
- Competitive pay across professions: The average Mississippi teacher would finally earn more than the average Mississippian with “some college” or the average Mississippian with an associate’s degree.
- A higher standard of living: The average Mississippi teacher with student debt would earn a living wage sufficient to support a child as a single adult.
- Protection from inflation: The inflation-adjusted value of a teacher salary would begin to rise for the first time since the Great Recession.
Strategy #2: Establish a $3,000 stipend for all teachers in critical shortage areas
Key to understanding Mississippi’s critical teacher shortage is the fact that not all districts are experiencing it. We need to boost the overall supply of teachers, but we also need to incentivize employment specifically where it is most needed: in critical shortage districts. Targeting resources in this way offers a cost-effective strategy that will pay immediate dividends:
- Teachers where we need them: A stipend of $3,000 (worth 8% of a starting teacher’s salary) would be a powerful incentive to move to the highest-need districts.
- Cheaper than a commensurate across-the-board raise: Classifying this compensation as a stipend would save millions of dollars in benefits payments, while restricting eligibility to teachers in critical shortage areas would cut down on the number of annual recipients.
Strategy #3: Revamp the Critical Teacher Shortage Act to offer undergraduate teacher candidates grants and loan repayment assistance
One of the reasons compensation is so important to the teaching profession is that becoming a teacher is an increasingly expensive endeavor, one that often leaves teachers saddled with excessive student loan debt well into their career. There is also compelling evidence that the rising cost of college has become more of a deterrent to becoming a teacher than the prospect of low wages. Offering a one-two punch of undergraduate grants and loan repayment assistance to eligible teacher candidates can be a compelling bargain:
- Incentive to enter educator preparation: Offering grants worth up to 50% of a Mississippi public university undergraduate’s annual tuition would be a powerful front-end incentive for students who want to teach but are skeptical of long-term earnings.
- Incentive to teach where we need them: After incentivizing entrance into an educator preparation program, offering a back-end incentive to teach in a critical shortage area for loan repayment assistance ensures that recipients remain in our state’s educator pipeline and become employed where they are most needed.
- Lower student debt: Participants in this program would enter the classroom with substantially less debt than they would have accrued otherwise; this financial freedom may make it easier to stay in Mississippi classrooms where they are most needed.
- Available funds for a pilot: A two-year pilot program offering $8,000 grants and subsequent loan repayment assistance to two successive cohorts of 100 teacher candidates would cost about $3 million over two years; there is more than enough money remaining in the Mississippi Works Training Fund to fund this pilot. Lottery funds could also be used for a pilot.