It is a well known fact that Mississippi has the lowest education rates in the United States. Likewise, Mississippi also has the lowest starting salary for teachers in the nation. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots and see that the education quality in Mississippi is directly related to how much teachers are paid. In a system where teachers have the ability to leave the state and be paid more for their skills, there is nothing stopping Mississippi graduates joining the workforce from leaving the state in search of better jobs. The Mississippi Legislature is in the process of raising the starting salary, among other educational changes, and finally stepping in the right direction for the education system.
A bill was passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives in January of this year to raise the starting salary of teachers by $6,000 and give teachers with at least three years’ experience a minimum $4,000 raise, while the Senate has proposed a separate bill acting to raise the salary of teachers by $4,700 over two years. Although the two houses have yet to agree on one plan, the bipartisan passing of each bill is a huge step forward.
House Education Committee Chairman, Richard Bennett, cited the education bill as necessary to keep Mississippi in competition with other states for the best and brightest teachers. The bill works in conjunction with other efforts by the state to keep trained teachers in Mississippi, including the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program offered at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. The METP program provides scholarships to undergraduates pursuing degrees in education under the condition that they commit to spending five years teaching in Mississippi post-graduation. With these commitments to furthering the quality of education in Mississippi, the state government is taking their shot at advancing the status of the state as a whole.
The House plan will raise the starting salary for teachers to $43,000 annually, pushing the state average above those of Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas. This would still fall below the national average starting salary of $43,125, but as small the difference is the increase is a stepping stone to Mississippi becoming a popular location for teachers entering the workforce. The perception of Mississippi outside of the South is largely negative when it comes to education, and it is high time for the state to do more to change this.
Along with raising teachers salaries, other proposed education bills include those to increase counseling availability in public schools and to increase programs for students with developmental disabilities. It is encouraging to see the Mississippi government place priority on education and finally seem to care about the quality of resources provided in state schools. Mississippi still has a lot of room for growth in the education system, but recent efforts are certainly hopeful.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore majoring in integrated marketing communications from Lemont, Illinois.