Jackson Public Schools administrative building Credit: Jackson Public Schools

Jackson Public School District will lose 236 of 241 teachers who were using an alternate license because of policies that are being enforced by the Mississippi Department of Education, said JPS chief of staff Michael Cormack.

“This is hitting us hard,” he said.

Of those 236 who are ineligible to return next year, 105 have committed to coming back to teach as long-term substitutes or “limited service” educators, Cormack said. This means they’ll go from earning $203.81 a day to $85 a day before taxes, insurance and retirement are taken out if they elected to do so. That’s a 58 percent pay cut.

“On a human level, these are often single parents. They’re folks who are very committed to our children. The financial toll of taking that kind of pay cut, it would have to have an impact. So they’re taking out a second or a third job just to try to make ends meet, but they are incredibly committed to our students,” he said.

The remaining 131 teachers though will be seeking employment elsewhere, “because they are not able to absorb the financial hit. They would like to return to the classroom by and large, but because of the barriers to certification they really do have a challenge in doing so.”

The issue revolves around first-year teachers not meeting requirements that allow them to come back and teach a second year. Because of this, potentially dozens of educators in the Delta – an area where the teacher shortage is most heightened – and perhaps more around the state can’t continue to teach. 

Licensing ‘misunderstanding’ may cost some teachers their jobs, heightening state’s critical teacher shortage

Education leaders like district superintendents and college deans of education have said they thought that candidates had three years to meet the licensing requirements, and only had to show that candidates were making progress toward completion in order to renew the special non-renewable license for nontraditional teachers. In years past, this has been the case with teachers using this license.  

Mississippi Department of Education officials say that the rules for the license have never changed and that problems are arising now because of a misunderstanding with local school leaders.

Many teachers using this license just recently found out about the one-year requirement, making it too late for them to complete all of the necessary tasks before the end of June, which is when they would either have to reapply for that license or the license expires.

There is no confusion here. We understand what the policy is and that policy is consistent. We’ve been working really hard to make certain that teachers can make it into year two and three of this license so that they can become certified educators,” Cormack said. “If you look at the statute and the way that this was envisioned previously and implemented previously, teachers had a three-year period to meet all licensure requirements. It is the current interpretation of statue that is the challenge here.”

JPS recruiter Tommy Nalls Jr. also said the policy has always been in place but hasn’t been enforced until recently.

“We would encourage (MDE) to reconsider its approach and to open it to a three year time table to meet all of the certification requirements rather than to install these gates every year,” Cormack said.

This loss of teachers comes as the critical teacher shortage is at an all-time high. In 2018 there were more than 2,100 teaching vacancies and 2,256 uncertified teachers across Mississippi.

Cormack said that JPS will respond by doubling down on innovative recruitment efforts such as:

• Providing teachers with Praxis support so that they can achieve certification

• Expanding outreach to other teacher providers such as Teach For America and the Mississippi Teacher Corps

• Engaging with the Kellogg Foundation and MDE to participate in several teacher recruitment and retention pilot programs

• Trying to change the narrative about Jackson Public Schools by launching a “superhero teacher” campaign

Besides the problems this new teacher shortage wave is presenting on an administrative level, most education advocates would argue that the crucial population being affected is the students.

“It is incredibly challenging for students to constantly have the churn of educators,” Cormack said. “It has a challenging impact for our students who have to become acclimated to a new set of teachers. The relational capital that [teachers] build with our students and their families has been wiped away.”

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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.