Mississippi lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk today that will raise pay for the average Mississippi teacher by $5,140 this year if the governor signs it into law. Reeves has not commented on the bill, though he did call for a $1,300 educator pay raise last August.
After negotiations, the Mississippi Senate passed the bill, known as the “Strategically Accelerating the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers Act of 2022,” unanimously on March 17. The Mississippi House also passed the START Act today by a vote of 118-4.
The pay raises will cost the state $246 million. On the House floor, Rep. Richard Bennett, the House Education Committee chairman, defended the decision to prioritize those funds for teachers.
“What we’re talking about is raising these teachers’ salaries who work their ass off for our students,” he said.
Mississippi educators currently earn a starting salary of about $37,000—the lowest in the nation. Under the START Act, beginning pay for new Mississippi teachers would rise to an average of $41,638. That would exceed both the southeastern starting average of $39,754 and the national starting average of $41,163.
In addition to the immediate pay raise, the plan would provide yearly step increases of at least $400 every year and $1,200 or more every fifth year. In their 25th year teaching, educators would receive a $2,500 raise. The step increases are the same as in the House proposal last week except for the five year bumps, which began at $1,000 instead of $1,200.
After the vote, the Mississippi Association of Educators praised the House and Senate “for their overwhelming approval of House Bill 530,” which is the result of negotiations between the House and Senate. Both chambers passed bills with smaller teacher pay raises earlier this year.
“The final bill is stronger and better than either of the original proposals, and that is because of the strong advocacy of MAE members, other educators and education stakeholders throughout the state,” the organization said. “The Leadership and committee members agreed to listen and crafted the best possible outcome for teachers and their assistants. …
“These salaries will help us recruit and retain enthusiastic, highly qualified educators who can help our students reach their highest potential.”
Mississippi has bled teachers for years who either left the profession or moved to nearby states that offer higher pay. The state has long suffered a sustained teacher shortage that has led some public schools to opt to allow otherwise unqualified people to teach on emergency licenses.
Under the plan, the pay increases would continue until a teacher’s 35th year, at which point educators with a bachelor’s degree would max out at a $60,800 salary, while those with a doctorate would earn $71,400 per year.
The pay increases would continue until a teacher’s 35th year, at which point educators with a bachelor’s degree would max out at a $60,800 salary, while those with a doctorate would earn $71,400 per year. The bill will prohibit schools from reducing the local teacher pay supplements in response to the state-level pay raises, Bennett said.
The bill also raises pay for teacher’s assistants to $17,000 per year, up from the current level of $15,000.
“We’ve got a lot of emails from teachers begging us, praising their teacher’s assistants and saying they need help,” Bennett said today. “And we’re not finished with the TAs. We’re going to keep going in that direction.”
“You can say we’ve helped take some people off food-stamp assistance with this bill,” Rep. Thomas U. Reynolds, D-Charleston, said. Bennett agreed.
The House passed the bill moments later. The only no votes came from Reps. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison; Rep. Chris Brown, R-Nettleton; Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch; and Rep. Brady Williamson, R-Oxford.
In its statement, MAE said that by raising teacher salaries and improving education, “the entire state’s quality of life will improve.”
“We encourage Governor Tate Reeves to quickly approve this measure and help our public school districts recruit and retain teachers and their assistants for the coming year.”