JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Lawmakers will soon start the 2021 legislative session and teachers are putting in their requests early. A pay raise has been on Mississippi teachers’ wish list for the last several years now.
“We cannot keep kicking this can down the road,” said Mississippi Association of Educators President Erica Jones. “Our educators are depending on us to do the right thing.”
Lower pay than other states has translated to a teacher shortage. The Mississippi Association of Educators is also giving some perspective on what that’s ultimately costing schools.
“One thing that I’ve experienced as an elementary teacher is that class sizes would increase, especially when you don’t have enough certified educators,” described Jones. “You may see a doubling of class size. You may also start to lose some of your electives like art, music and band.”
Mississippi First published this study this month that dives into the shortage. It reveals pay is the main factor in fewer people going into the profession both from in and out of state programs.
“The number of teacher preparation completers from out of state... it used to be hundreds and hundreds we could rely on,” explained Mississippi First K-12 Education Policy Director Toren Ballard. “But that number has actually gone down 96 percent in the last 10 years.”
Keep in mind, all of these statistics are pre-COVID. And education policy groups agree that it will likely have an impact since many teachers had to weigh health risks and returning to the classroom.
“I think going forward, in a couple of years from now when we finally get the full picture of what’s going on here, I think this is going to become an even more dire issue,” added Ballard.
Senate Education Vice Chair David Blount says he’s working with the Lt. Governor’s office on a proposal that would not only boost teacher pay but also give incentives for new teachers.
“If you’re a new teacher, probably have student loans, we’re going to have a program in place over a period of years where we will pay down part of that loan for you if you enter the profession and stay in the profession which I think will make it more attractive,” said Senator David Blount.
But how will the legislature afford the raises or incentives amid continuing COVID-19 budget impacts?
”First we need to know what the Congress is going to do and the new president, when President Biden takes office, what they’re going to do with a second stimulus package to keep our economy afloat,” said Blount. “That was critical when the virus first hit. Then, after that has a ripple effect on the state budget, state tax collections, that allows us to do the things we need to do.”