Teacher pay boost proposed in Mississippi
(Miss.) In an effort to stay ahead of teacher protests that have sparked voter unrest in other states, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant released a budget plan earlier this month that includes $50 million for pay raises over two years.
With an average salary of about $43,000, classroom educators in Mississippi are among the lowest paid in the nation–one of the primary reasons many districts are suffering with a shortage of certified teachers.
Overall, Bryant’s $6.3 billion budget for 2019-20 would spend $170 million more than the current fiscal year and sets aside 2 percent of projected revenue to bring the state’s rainy day account to more than $400 million.
He would also add $75 million to better cover retirement benefits of state workers.
The state legislature is out of session but lawmakers will return on Jan. 8, 2019.
Bryant said the state’s improving economic conditions should continue at least for the foreseeable future.
“Mississippi’s revenue continues to grow as a result of conservative policy-making,” Bryant said in a statement. “This year, revenue is projected to increase by 2.6 percent, and we have record amounts in the state’s cash reserves. Because of this growth, in Fiscal Year 2020, I recommend to the Legislature that it cut no agency’s budget and that we make investments in agencies and programs that will lead to long-term prosperity in Mississippi.”
Hard hit by the recession, Mississippi state government was still working through some of the hardship as recently as last year, when two of Wall Street’s three major credit rating agencies gave the state a negative outlook.
All three have since upgraded the state’s rating to stable.
The improved economy translates into good news for the state’s public schools. Bryant has proposed $2.5 billion in overall spending next year, which includes $25 million for a boost in teacher salaries.
“Teachers are the men and women who are educating tomorrow’s leaders, and they deserve to be better compensated,” the governor said.
The Mississippi State Board of Education moved in September to relax certification requirements to allow about 100 new teachers to join the system.
The move came in response to the growing number of districts that cannot find qualified applicants to fill all their classrooms. State officials estimate that the number of college students entering teacher preparation programs has fallen about 40 percent over the past five years.
The state department of education placed more than 25 districts on probation in October for accreditation violations that include not having enough properly licensed teachers.
The teacher shortage is especially acute in Mississippi’s many rural districts.