Today, Mississippi First released our newest report, Eyeing the Exit: Teacher Turnover and What We Can Do About It. This report takes a deeper dive into data first reported in our February 2022 report Voices of the Shortage: 2022 Mississippi Teacher Survey, which revealed that over half of teachers surveyed reported being “somewhat” or “very likely” to leave their Mississippi classroom by November 2022. 

This second report provides a nuanced look at which Mississippi teachers are considering exiting the classroom and why. Central to the report is our examination of attrition risk and teachers’ standard of living, which we use to make the case that financial insecurity drives teachers’ desire to exit the classroom. Lastly, we offer recommendations for policymakers to address teacher turnover and strengthen every facet of Mississippi’s educator pipeline.

toren ballard

“The results of the survey are unequivocal: Mississippi teachers have experienced an unacceptable standard of living, and they are prepared to leave the classroom in order to change this reality. This is the clearest evidence yet that Mississippi’s critical teacher shortage is rooted in basic economics,”  Toren Ballard, Director of K-12 Policy at Mississippi First and the report’s co-author.

The Economic Realities of Living on a Teacher’s Salary

  • Half of Mississippi teachers reported that they struggle to afford basic necessities, which we define as medical care, housing, transportation, and food. Student loan debt also complicates finances for half of Mississippi teachers. 
  • Among survey respondents, early-career teachers (those with 6-11 years of experience) report the highest levels of financial insecurity. We also found that teachers with children and teachers in lower-rated districts were more likely to struggle financially. Across every metric, however, the situation is, on average, the most dire for Black teachers and their peers of color. 
  • Lastly, our findings show the choices that classroom teachers make, such as choosing a particular licensure pathway, have little impact on their financial well-being, on average. Instead, demographic characteristics, such as being White or male, translated to a higher likelihood of being able to afford necessities, which indicates that teaching is not a pathway to economic mobility.

What Drives Teacher Attrition in Mississippi

Using multiple linear regression—a statistical tool for measuring the relationship between variables—we examined the association between attrition risk (i.e., self-described risk of leaving their teaching position) and factors like years of experience and financial well-being. Among all the factors we tested, financial insecurity was one of the most significant and reliable predictors of attrition risk. In other words, the more financially insecure teachers reported being, the more likely they were to express a desire to leave the classroom for another education role, look for a job in another state, or leave the profession entirely. Among the largest drivers of financial insecurity was student loan debt.

Policy Recommendations 

Our survey offers policymakers key insights into what policy solutions may yield the most promising results. Though the 2022 teacher pay raise was a very good start,* attrition data for the 2021-2022 school year show that the crisis is ongoing. Mississippi First believes the legislature should take further, targeted action to support teachers most at risk of leaving by:

Incentivizing teaching in Mississippi’s highest-need areas with an annual critical shortage stipend of $2,000.
Reducing teachers’ student debt burden by expanding eligibility and eliminating the cap on awards for the existing Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program.
Increasing take-home pay for teachers with families by lowering their state health insurance premiums.

*Mississippi First administered a follow-up survey in November 2022 to understand the impact of the pay raise. The findings of this follow-up survey will be available in spring 2023.

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