Mississippi’s public-school teachers will receive an average $5,140 pay raise this year, and assistant teachers will enjoy a $2,000 pay bump this year after Gov. Tate Reeves signed the START Act into law Thursday. The governor, joined by state education leaders and lawmakers, held a signing ceremony at Madison Central High School in Madison County, a suburban public school in the capital-city area.
“We are delighted to welcome so many state leaders here to Madison County as Mississippi affirms the value of our educators with the largest teacher pay raise in state history,” Madison County School Superintendent Charlotte Seals said as she introduced the governor. “… It will help school districts across the state attract and retain quality teachers.”
The raise is the largest in history only when not adjusted for inflation. In 1988, then-Gov. Ray Mabus signed legislation raising the average teacher’s pay by nearly $4,000, or close to $9,000 in today’s dollars.
Mississippi House and Senate leaders reached an agreement on the legislation and sent it to the governor’s desk on March 22.
The state has long struggled to retain and attract educators, causing a teacher shortage that has forced some districts to allow unqualified people to teach on emergency teaching licenses. Until now, Mississippi has held the distinction as the state with the lowest starting teacher pay in the country other than Arkansas, but the bill Reeves signed Thursday will change that.
“It not only puts Mississippi’s starting teacher salary above the southeastern average, it also puts our starting salaries above the national average,” Gov. Reeves said at the bill signing Thursday.
The governor noted that the average $5,140 raise in the START Act exceeds his 2019 campaign promise to raise teacher pay by $4,300 across the board. The pay raises will cost the state $246 million, but lawmakers have said the state can afford it even after the Legislature passed the largest state income-tax cut in Mississippi history, slashing over $500 million from state revenues.
In 1988, Gov. Ray Mabus signed a pay raise boosting average teacher pay by about $3,700, or more than $8,000 adjusted for inflation.
Gov. Reeves said Mississippi’s educators deserve the raise.
“During the pandemic, our teachers and assistant teachers stepped up in a way in which we may never be able to repay them,” the governor said Thursday. “They were willing to go back to the classroom when some in other states were not.”
Mississippi educators currently earn a starting salary of about $37,000. Under the START Act, beginning pay for new Mississippi teachers will rise to an average of $41,638. That will 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 new law provides yearly step increases of at least $400 every year and $1,200 or more every fifth year. In their 25th year teaching, educators will receive a $2,500 raise. The pay increases will continue until a teacher’s 35th year, at which point educators with a bachelor’s degree will max out at a $60,800 salary, while those with a doctorate will earn $71,400 per year.
Teacher’s assistants, who currently make $15,000 per year, will now earn $17,000 annually.
At the ceremony, Mississippi State Superintendent Carey Wright said she believes the raises will help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage.
“I am hopeful that this teacher pay raise will be one that will attract more quality educators and, equally as important if not more important, retain the amazing ones we have now,” she said.
In a statement today, the Mississippi Association of Educators said the bill signing “culminated years of work by MAE members, legislators, education advocates, parents, and public school communities.”
“It has been most rewarding to see a bipartisan, ultimately congenial, effort culminate in this historic legislation,” MAE said. “We are committed to continuing our work to improve Mississippi’s public schools in the coming months, and we will be advocating for issues such as community schools, mental health services for teachers and students, and appropriate wages for education support personnel.
“We look forward to working with legislators, educators, advocates, and public school communities to achieve these goals.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Mississippi’s current average starting teacher salary is the lowest in the nation. Arkansas’ starting pay for educators is lower. Additionally, the current pay raise is only the largest when not adjusted for inflation. A 1988 bill that then-Gov. Ray Mabus signed raising average teacher pay by around $4,000 for the average teacher would be equal to an almost $9,000 increase in today’s dollars.