Mississippi’s 32,000-plus K-12 public school teachers must have pinched themselves on March 24 to make sure the news they heard was true.
That’s when they awoke to the word that the Mississippi Legislature gave them a whopping pay raise.
The hikes are the largest annual salary adjustment in Mississippi school history. The state is 204-years-old.
The pay increase is unheard-of, averaging $ 5,140-plus per year, effective at the start of the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. The average salary will be in the range of $ 51,962, said the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board. That would put Mississippi’s average third in the Southeast. Longtime teachers’ pay will vary due to length of service and educational level.
The base minimum salary for starting teachers will be advanced from $ 37,123 to $ 41,500. Mississippi would have the fifth-highest starting salary in the Southeast.
Teachers’ assistants are getting a $ 2,000 increase under the plan, up to $ 17,000 a year.
The problem with these ratings above or below certain other state averages is that others are also contemplating raising their teachers’ pay. “(Mississippi’s) new average may not compare quite as favorably with the other states when that data is final,” according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
Georgia, the economic powerhouse and industrial leader of the South, is apparently giving its teachers a raise of $ 2,000 for next year, but already handed them a $ 3,000 raise in 2019. They’ll then average more than $ 60,000 a year.
Georgia has always paid its teachers well. It was significant, especially in our household, that during then-Democrat Zell Miller’s last four years as Georgia governor (1995-1999), he was forced through a 6 percent pay raise each year for public school educators. My wife, a teacher and curriculum supervisor in the Albany, Georgia, public schools for 30 years, thanks Miller; as do I.
I loved what Mississippi House of Representatives Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Republican from Long Beach, said after passage of the pay raise which Gov. Tate Reeves has signed into law.
“This has been like making sausage – it’s not pretty but the end result is pretty good,” Bennett said.
As the 2022 legislative session began, Mississippi needed an estimated 3,000 certified teachers to fill positions across the state. The pay hikes will certainly help fill some of those slots by people who’ve been considering the profession.
Nobody ever accused Mississippi’s teachers of doing this for the money, so do not go there. But, many teachers will now be able to quit second jobs that helped them meet financial ends. SREB noted that other factors, including a seeming lack of respect for teachers, keep college grads from pursuing employment in education. Some prospective teachers also fear poor working conditions and a lack of opportunity to advance.
A Mississippi task force focusing on teacher shortages made changes to the licensing system and other hiring issues in a report filed last August. It also spelled out the detrimental effects of being unable to attract quality teachers.
“A teacher shortage crisis is not only an education issue, but also a workforce and economic crisis waiting to happen, as teaching is the profession that enables all other professions,” the report indicated. “… When students do not have good teachers, it can affect their cognitive growth …”
What’s encouraging about the pay hike is lawmakers actually bickered, then compromised, over details of the bill. Fighting over the amount of increasing teacher pay is a new tactic in Mississippi sausage-making.
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb and a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at [email protected]