Skip to main content Accessibility

Education under the microscope in Mississippi

Recently, the Mississippi Legislature hosted a hearing examining teacher pay, benefits and other issues impacting the state’s teacher shortage.

While lawmakers have passed modest teacher pay increases in recent sessions, Mississippi educators still rank last in the United States in average salary. The state’s teachers earn roughly 15% less than other Mississippians with a bachelor’s degree.

The daylong hearing, hosted by the Senate Education Committee last month, marked the first time in several years that lawmakers have dedicated significant out-of-session time to take a comprehensive look at the factors contributing to low teacher retention in the state.

“It’s teachers coming out of school, up to 20 years — that’s where we have the problems,” said Education Committee Chairman Dennis Debar.

Testimony revealed that Mississippi is struggling to keep pace not only in teacher pay but also in insurance and other benefits. Corey Miller, chief economist for the state, pointed out that Mississippi’s low cost of living factors into the lower pay but even when adjusted for cost of living, teacher pay trails that of most other states.

Mississippi’s average teacher salary is $8,200 lower than teachers in the Southern Regional Education Board’s 16-state region. Additionally, while state health insurance and retirement are regularly touted as justifications for lower teacher salaries, the cost for family insurance coverage for educators exceeds that of neighboring states – costing approximately three times as much when compared to neighboring state Alabama – and retirement only comes after 30 years of low salary, compared to 20 in Louisiana.

A study comparing teachers in countries worldwide has shown that teachers who are paid more tend to have higher cognitive skills, which in turn results in higher achievement for their students. This study looked at survey data of reading and math skills of about 6,400 teachers globally as well as the student achievement data from the teachers’ countries. The study found that increasing teachers’ math skills by as little as 5% increased student performance by nearly 15%.

The researchers also found that the impact of a teacher’s higher cognitive skills is larger for low-income students than their more affluent peers, particularly in reading. This may be because low-income families may be less equipped to fill in the educational gaps left by a less-than-quality education, which in Mississippi translates into per-student spending of $9,181 per student. It’s a figure that places the state 49th in the nation for such spending.

“What you are working on is the future of Mississippi, with our teachers — our opportunity to change and opportunity to prosper,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told the committee. “Everything you’re talking about is the key to that.”

The SPLC Action Fund agrees wholeheartedly. Please join us in urging legislators to support Mississippi’s children by supporting the state’s teachers.  You can find contact information for representatives here and senators here.

Megan Bennett is a policy associate for the SPLC Action Fund.

Photo at top: Felicia Gavin, the Mississippi Department of Education's chief operating officer, answers lawmakers’ questions during a Senate Education Committee hearing on teacher pay, teacher benefits and other related issues at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. (Credit: AP/Rogelio V. Solis)