Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. Some education advocates want to see the same thing happen in Mississippi. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With the school year winding to a close soon, a recent survey of more than 1,500 teachers shows one third of respondents are willing to participate in a teacher strike for higher pay.

The Mississippi Association of Educators, a statewide organization and local affiliate of the National Education Association, released a survey earlier this month to gauge educators’ level of interest in participating in a “walkout (of the classroom) on a specific day and refuse to return for an indefinite amount of time” and other possible actions.

“MAE took special care not to advocate or encourage survey respondents to select any specific action,” MAE wrote in an analysis that accompanied the survey. “The action options that were listed on the survey were included because these were the actions being strongly considered by educators.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the Legislature passed a $1,500 pay raise for teachers and assistant teachers. Many said the amount was insulting, and not long after the session ended a Facebook page titled “Pay Raise for Mississippi Teachers” spurred debate about whether educators were willing to strike.

Supporters of a possible strike effort hope that history repeats itself. After Mississippi teachers went on strike in 1985, the Legislature enacted a $4,400 pay raise. In the same bill that provided that raise, lawmakers also explicitly laid out terms that forbids teachers, teacher unions, and district officials from participating in future strikes.

The MAE survey, which the organization disseminated through Facebook, email and text messages, garnered 1,765 respondents. Of those, 1,524 said they were classroom teachers or education support professionals.

Respondents were asked to identify which county they taught in. The results were varied, with the largest percentages choosing Hinds and Desoto counties with 9.71 and 9.79 percent, respectively.

“We know from past successful actions in Mississippi — and more recent actions taken by educators in other states — that change must happen from the bottom-up,” MAE said. “We also know that educators must be organized and equipped with a plan.”

When asked what actions they’d be willing to take “in protest of the $1,500 pay raise and the intentional divestment in public education by state leaders,” about one third stated they were willing to strike. Respondents could choose more than one option.

  • 64 percent said they were willing to refuse to support businesses that donated to campaigns of “anti-public education candidates”
  • 63 percent were willing to participate in a one day “sick out” where people call in sick on the same day
  • More than half (53 percent) said they would be willing to campaign for pro-public education advocates
  • 42 percent were willing to participate in informational picketing, defined as peaceful protest in the survey, during non-contract hours
  • 31 percent said they were willing to “walkout on a specific day and refuse to return for an indefinite amount of time”
  • 27 percent said they were willing to refuse to participate in school-related extracurricular activities

“Actions such as informational picketing or having a rally are not the endgame,” MAE wrote. “These are tactics and activities that will be employed strategically to reach our goals.”

Those goals are having all educators paid a living wage that is reflective of their value, MAE said, and ensuring every child receives a high quality education.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.