The state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously moved forward a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and assistants and approved a bill providing reciprocity for teachers in other states to more easily get a license to teach here.

“Hopefully this will help address our teacher shortage here in Mississippi,” said Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leakesville. “… Obviously (a teacher raise) is well deserved, and I would like to see a bigger raise, absolutely, but this is a start.”

Under Senate Bill 2001, which now heads to the Appropriations Committee, starting teachers — those with zero to three years experience with a bachelor’s degree, would see a $1,110 increase, bringing their annual pay to $37,000. This is still below the Southeastern regional average of $38,420 and national average of $40,154. A study by the National Education Association of starting teacher salaries for 2018-2019 ranked Mississippi’s pay 46th among states.

Last school year (2019-20) the average salary for a teacher was $46,843, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is pushing the pay raise and promising more in subsequent years — a major campaign promise in his successful campaign in 2019.

“It’s bill No. 1, after the (new state) flag,” Hosemann said, and he’s still committed to ongoing raises. “My hope is to get us up to, and then in excess of the Southern average for teachers, particularly for surrounding states that we compete with for teachers.”

Last year, a similar proposed raise passed the Senate but died in the House amid budget uncertainties from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Mississippi teachers received a $1,500 raise.

House Speaker Philip Gunn has recently said he wants to provide a teacher pay raise, but state budget numbers will have to be crunched to see if the state can afford one. Gov. Tate Reeves, who also campaigned promising teacher raises, did not include one in his budget recommendation to the Legislature.

The raise would cost about $51 million a year, DeBar said. He noted that a recent report shows the state’s roughly $6 billion budget is running about $325 million above revenue estimates. He and Hosemann said state finances appear sound and the state can afford the teacher raise.

Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, a member of the Education Committee, said, “I wish it could be more, but it’s important to me as a Republican to get a raise out there this year, but also to make sure it is a raise that taxpayers can afford.”

The committee also approved Senate Bill 2267, a measure to provide license reciprocity for teachers in other states who want to move to the Magnolia State. Several lawmakers reported hearing of problems with teachers moving here getting licensed in a timely manner by the Mississippi Department of Education.

“That’s a No. 1 complaint I hear,” said Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, “is delays in getting licensed, and not getting paid during that time.”

Teachers licensed in other states can now receive a temporary license, but often face problems, delays and red tape in receiving a standard five-year license, lawmakers said.

“The problem here is all the requirements, all the boxes you’ve got to check, and all the other stuff you’ve got to do — it’s a real disincentive to come here from another state,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, vice chairman of the committee. “Even if they don’t check every box, we would like to trust that local district and that local school board in hiring that teacher.”

DeBar recounted to his colleagues that a teacher from the Juilliard School in New York wanted to move to Mississippi and teach at the School of the Arts, “but for some reason her master’s degree wouldn’t work here and they wanted her to take more credits.”

Mississippi has for years suffered teacher shortages, particularly in poor and rural areas, and that is expected to worsen with increased costs of college tuition and a steep decline in college students completing education preparation programs.

According to a recent report released by Mississippi First, there has been a 32% decline in graduates of educator preparation programs from 2013-2014 to 2017-2018, and the out-of-state pipeline of teachers has diminished almost entirely with a 96% drop in four years.

“Kids are not going into teaching,” Hosemann said. “Part of that is economic, and we want to address that. But we are also looking at reciprocity, and looking at numerous other issues and policies to try to address that.”

Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.