Mississippi Teachers Deserve a Pay Raise

At the Mississippi Economic Council’s 2014 Capital Day event, Speaker Philip Gunn was unequivocal about his support for an across-the-board teacher pay raise and said it will be on the agenda in the House of Representatives this session. While he supports merit pay, Speaker Gunn was clear that he also supports an increase in the base pay for teachers – for all the right reasons.

Research is abundantly clear that the most important factor in student achievement is the teacher in the classroom. If we in Mississippi want to see dramatic improvement in our children’s education, we must do a better job of recruiting our very best and brightest into the field, training teacher candidates well, and retaining the terrific teachers already hard at work in our classrooms. We are failing miserably in all three categories.

Mississippi’s average teacher salary is among the lowest in the nation (only South Dakota pays teachers less), and Mississippi teacher salaries are significantly lower than those in our neighboring states. Our schools of education tell us that many of their best graduates leave Mississippi for better-paying jobs in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, or Louisiana. Another hefty percent leaves the classroom after a year or two for a more lucrative field.

Top-performing countries figured this out years ago and invested heavily in teacher salaries and top-notch teacher prep programs. They pay their teachers salaries in line with those of doctors, attorneys, and engineers. Consequently, they recruit the same top-tier students into teacher prep programs that med schools and schools of law recruit into theirs. Those countries have sailed past the United States in student achievement – because they invested in teachers. Read more here.

Tough talk won’t change student achievement. Brilliant teachers will. If we are serious about making Mississippi an attractive place to establish a business and locate employees, we must get serious about real reform. That includes serious teacher pay.

Some would like for you to believe that funding a teacher pay raise and funding the MAEP are mutually exclusive. That simply isn’t true. Both are possible, and both are essential to the kind of improvement we want to see in our schools. The truth is, the overwhelming majority of the MAEP goes to pay teacher salaries, so to pit one against the other is nonsensical.

We at The Parents’ Campaign applaud Speaker Gunn’s commitment to an increase in base teacher salaries.

We will be watching carefully as the legislation moves through the process. It will be important to ensure that enabling legislation raising the teacher pay scale is supported with an actual appropriation that pays for the increase. Otherwise, local school districts will have to pay the higher salaries out of already under-funded budgets. In a worst-case scenario, if legislators were to pass a higher salary scale but not provide the funding for it, school districts could be forced to lay off teachers in order to pay the mandated higher salaries. We do not expect that to happen, but we’ll be watching to make sure that it doesn’t.

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