Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of an ongoing series of posts dedicated to K-12 education policy in Mississippi.
By Grace Breazeale I K-12 Policy Associate
In recent reports—including Falling Behind, which we released earlier this month—we have presented evidence that a large proportion of Mississippi teachers struggle with financial insecurity. A teacher survey we conducted during the 2021-2022 school year, for instance, demonstrated that over half of respondents struggled to afford at least one basic necessity (a category that included food, housing, transportation, and medical care). A follow-up survey from the 2022-2023 school year showed similar data, despite the significant teacher pay raise that took effect in July 2022. In both surveys, teachers who were struggling financially were much more likely to consider an exit from the classroom than teachers who were not struggling. We arrived at the conclusion that bolstering the financial security of teachers could help decrease their likelihood of leaving the profession.
A plethora of reasons contribute to whether or not a teacher is financially secure. One primary factor is the amount of money that a teacher takes home: all else equal, teachers who take home more money are more likely to be in a better financial position and, thus, have a smaller attrition risk than teachers who take home less money. In this blog post, we examine drivers behind differences in pay and provide recommendations about potential ways to increase the pay of teachers who may need it most.
Factors Driving Salary Differences
Mississippi is one of thirteen states with a teacher salary schedule, which dictates the minimum salaries of teachers based on their years of experience and level of educational attainment (the remaining 37 states allow districts to create their own minimum salary schedules, though nine of these set restrictions on the minimum salary that districts may offer).
Mississippi has a traditional “step-and-lane” salary schedule. The minimum salary for a Mississippi teacher—a first-year teacher in Mississippi with a Class A license (Bachelor’s level)—must be paid a salary of $41,500. This increases to $43,000 for a first-year teacher with a Class AA (Master’s level) license, $44,000 for a first-year teacher with a Class AAA (Education Specialist level) license, and $45,500 for a first-year teacher with a Class AAAA (PhD level) license. With each additional year of teaching experience (each “step”), this required minimum salary increases for teachers in each licensure class (or “lane”). Due to the structure of this salary schedule, variation in pay between teachers is primarily driven by their experience and education level.
Despite this statewide salary schedule, Mississippi teachers with the same amount of experience and degree attainment may take home significantly different amounts from the job. Below, we explore some of the factors driving these differences.1
Impact on Take Home Pay
Given the factors that can play a role in teacher salary, let’s examine the take-home pay of teachers in several hypothetical scenarios.
Teacher 1 works in Madison County School District. She has ten years of experience and a master’s degree. Several years ago, she was encouraged by her district to complete the National Board Certification process. She does not have any children, and she is on the select version of an individual health insurance plan through her school district. She takes home about $3,440 per month.
Teacher 2 works in Calhoun County School District. He has ten years of experience and a master’s degree. He has not completed the National Board Certification process, as he has not been made aware of the financial assistance that the MDE offers for the costs of completing the process. He is a single parent who supports one child, and they are on a select family health insurance plan through his school district. He takes home about $2,730 per month.
Teacher 3 works in Carroll County School District. She has ten years of experience and a master’s degree. She has not completed the National Board Certification process, as she is relatively unfamiliar with the benefits of doing so. She supports her spouse and child, and they are on the district’s select family health insurance plan. She takes home about $2,270 per month.
The table below demonstrates how we arrived at these calculations for each teacher.
|Teacher 1 |
(Madison County School District, 10 years of experience, Class AA license, National Board Certified, no dependents)
|Teacher 2 |
(Calhoun County School District, 10 years of experience, Class AA license, not National Board Certified, supports one child)
|Teacher 3 |
(Carroll County School District, 10 years of experience, Class AA license, not National Board Certified, supports spouse and one child)
|Minimum Required Salary||$49,700||$49,700||$49,700|
|Local Salary Supplement||+$4,500||+$340||+$0|
|National Board Supplement||+$8,000||+$0||+$0|
|Gross Annual Salary||$62,200||$50,040||$49,700|
|Annual Health Insurance Deduction||-$552||-$2,844||-$10,080|
|Annual PERS Deduction (9%)||-$5,598||-$4,504||-$4,473|
|Pre-Tax Annual Salary||$56,050||$42,692||$35,147|
|State and Federal Income Tax Deduction||-$10,056||-$6,360||-$4,908|
|Net Annual Salary||$41,278||$32,720||$27,203|
Though the teachers in this scenario all have a Class AA license and have the same amount of teaching experience, they take home significantly different amounts from doing the same job.
We do not want to suggest that teachers in districts without salary supplements should move to districts with large salary supplements, or that teachers should not have children because of the insurance costs. We do, however, believe policymakers can help teachers who are currently at a disadvantage.
Critical Shortage Stipend
In two recent reports, Eyeing the Exit and Falling Behind, we recommend that the state legislature provide a stipend of $2,000 to teachers in school districts classified as critical shortage areas. Not only do these districts tend to see higher teacher turnover, but they also tend to offer less generous salary local salary supplements than districts that are not classified as critical shortage areas (the average supplement was $1,764 for first-year teachers in non-shortage districts and $1,379 for first-year teachers in shortage districts during the 2022-2023 school year, according to data from the MDE). Providing a $2,000 stipend to teachers in these areas will help increase their take-home pay and potentially reduce their risk of attrition.
Health Insurance Subsidy
In Eyeing the Exit and Falling Behind, we recommend that the state legislature reduce the cost of the State and School Employees’ Health Insurance Plan for families by providing a 50% subsidy for coverage of dependents. As we note in both reports and earlier in this post, the state insurance system is set up in a way that can make family plans prohibitively expensive. If the state were to further subsidize these plans, this would increase the take-home pay of employees who are currently at the greatest disadvantage under the system.
Promotion of National Board Certification
The Mississippi Department of Education, as well as school districts themselves, should be proactive in circulating information about the National Board Certification process. In doing so, they should ensure teachers are aware of the advantages of becoming National Board Certified and the financial help that is available from MDE. Additionally, they should consider strengthening their partnerships with the World Class Teaching Program (as Madison County School District has), which is available at universities across the state to support teachers completing the certification process.
Need for Action
The evidence is clear: many teachers’ decisions to leave the classroom is inextricable from their financial well-being. In turn, a teacher’s financial well-being is connected to the amount of money they bring home. Finding ways to increase the take-home pay of teachers who may be at a disadvantage under the current system could be critical to promoting their financial well-being and retention. We believe these actions could strengthen the state’s teacher workforce, bolstering our entire public education system.
1 We do not discuss salary differences that arise from teachers taking on additional responsibilities, such as tutoring or coaching, since the purpose of this post is to compare salary differences between teachers who do the same work.