Trezhar Wynn, 8, is helped by assistant teacher Karen Cotton. Wynn and other 3rd graders participate in math class via Zoom at the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Teacher assistants could receive a $3,000 raise next school year under the amended bill that passed the House of Representatives last week. 

Teacher assistants in Mississippi currently have a minimum salary of $17,000. The full-time employees can receive a local supplement from their district to bolster their salaries, but the Mississippi Department of Education does not track the size of these supplements for teacher assistants. 

Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, chair of the House Education Committee, introduced the raise as an amendment to his bill that prohibits districts from decreasing their local supplement when the state provides a raise. Bennett said this happened last year after the Legislature gave a $2,000 raise to teacher assistants as a part of the teacher pay raise.    

“It is needed,” Bennett told Mississippi Today. “It will bring them up to $20,000 in state funding, not including local supplements. It is still very low … It is a shame it is so low, as valuable as they are.” 

When Bennett introduced the amendment on the House floor, he was met with applause from the chamber. The amended bill passed 114-3. 

Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said that she was very pleased by the pay raise, as it has long been something they advocate for. 

“One of the things that we know is that our teacher assistants are the backbone of our public schools,” Jones said. “We know many of our assistant teachers work two and three jobs just to make ends meet, and this is clearly a step in the right direction.”  

The Mississippi Department of Education said last month that the number of vacancies for teacher assistants across the state increased last year by 32 spots, leading to a total of 564 teacher assistant vacancies. Districts attributed this increase to an uptick in responsibilities related to pandemic recovery for teacher assistants, including one-on-one tutoring, without a raise.   

“Mississippi’s assistant teachers work hard every day alongside their classroom teachers to provide the best education possible for our youngest students,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators.

Riley thanked the House for passing the legislation, and encouraged the Senate to do the same. 

Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, also introduced a bill to ban school districts from decreasing their supplements when a state raise is given. The bill has passed out of the Senate Tuesday. DeBar did not respond to a request for comment by Mississippi Today regarding if he would support the pay raise.

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.