HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - It’s the profession that is the foundation of all others — and often times we hear they’re underpaid. We’re talking about teachers.
“We have to do a better job of prioritizing teacher pay,” Mississippi Sen. Joey Fillingane said.
The teacher pay scale is a major concern for many Mississippi teachers.
“The legislature does set a teacher base salary," Fillingane said. "It’s based on, of course, everybody gets a certain base amount and then based on your years of service and your educational level of attainment, and then like whether you’re considered a master teacher or any of those sort of special designations can add to the base pay.”
The current base pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and one year of experience is $35,890.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that’s $7,677 lower than the median household income in 2018.
Because funds have to be available year after year and not just for one school year, state leaders say it’s not a simple process to increase the base salary.
“Even though it would make everybody feel great this year that we got this huge pay increase, what are we going to do next year? Are we going to take it away from them? Are we going to lay them off because we can’t afford it? I mean, that’s very short-sighted, fiscally speaking,” Fillingane said.
And when it comes to classroom expenses—the Mississippi Department of Education says each qualifying teacher receives an Education Enhancement Fund Procurement Card.
“And with that card, they’re allowed to buy classroom supplies, instructional materials, computers. Things that they need for the classroom,” said Letitia Johnson, director of School Financial Services at MDE.
For this school year, Mississippi educators received $405 dollars on that card.
This is meant to last the entire school year and eliminate extra costs for teachers.
“So, out of pocket, I don’t, you know, know what expenses they would have to purchase out of pocket, but funds are provided for them to purchase supplies,” Johnson said.
However, some former teachers say that’s not always the case.
“Each year, I made sure that all of my students had all the materials we were going to use in the lesson, whether or not our school district provided those resources or not,” said Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators.
And say they’ve dropped serious amounts of cash to ensure their students had what they needed.
“Over $1,000 a year. I know when I was in the classroom, it was nothing for me to spend thousands of dollars,” Jones said.
When it comes to a solution for the problem, Fillingane said there is something that can be done.
“I think you either have to derive a reoccurring source of income, which would be a tax” Fillingane said.
But, it’s not just up to the state.
“Another part of the solution is to recognize that local communities also have the responsibility to raise local taxes or designate taxes that are already being collected and put those towards education attainment by having quality classroom teachers, by increasing that local teacher supplement,” Fillingane said.