Discussions around teacher pay in Mississippi often lead back to a sobering point: “It’s among the lowest in the nation.”
Whether the metric used is data collected by the National Education Association, one of the country’s leading teacher unions, or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Magnolia State ranks in the bottom five.
It’s expected for Mississippi to have a gap when compared to Northeastern states, but advocates for increased teacher pay point out that teachers can secure a salary boost simply by driving across the state line in just about any direction.
Almost four years have passed since Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a teacher pay raise package, and two years have passed since voters rejected a constitutional amendment that sought to fully fund the state's public schools according to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula.
With that in mind, here are five ways to consider teacher pay in Mississippi.
Still at the bottom
No surprise here: Finding Mississippi on a ranking of the nation’s average teacher salaries requires scrolling to the bottom.
Teachers in the Magnolia State post the lowest average salary ($42,744), according to a 2017 survey by the National Education Association.
The report is frequently cited in national coverage of teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and West Virginia, and Mississippi’s position has some curious about whether the state could see a revolt in the future.
The state’s standing improves only slightly when using the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. By that measure, teachers in Mississippi brought in $257 more than their South Dakota peers, who made $42,668 on average.
What about the cost of living
Some observers have argued that looking at salary alone leaves out important context such as buying power.
For the past two years, for example, the Tax Foundation, a DC-based think tank, has reported that $100 in Mississippi goes further than in any other state, a finding reflective of Mississippi’s poverty.
The New Jersey-based nonprofit EdBuild, which has worked with efforts to rewrite Mississippi’s school funding formula, has carried the conversation over to teacher salaries. NPR reported that an analysis by the school finance reform advocacy group found that a cost of living adjustment “rockets” Mississippi average teacher salary to 37th in the country.
Gaps between other Southern states
If you’re going to use a cost-of-living adjustment, it’s useful to compare how Mississippi stacks up against its neighboring states. With the adjustment, average teacher pay in Mississippi (now worth $52,000) bests Louisiana by $74. It goes downhill from there.
Teachers would need to make over $4,000 more to match the buying power of Arkansas ($56,135), Tennessee ($56,180) or Alabama ($57,550).
Jonathon McLendon, director of human resources for the McComb County School District, says the teacher wage gap “makes it hard to compete” against Southern states.
McClendon says he was one of almost 100 school representatives, including from as far away as Louisville, Kentucky, jockeying for teachers at a recent teacher fair at Mississippi State University. During a similar set up at Jackson State University, recruiters from Florida and Texas school systems were offering lucrative sign-on bonuses.
Gaps between districts, too
Mississippi guarantees that certified teachers will receive a minimum of $34,390, but teachers can bring home more depending on their stipends from their local district.
For the 2019 school year, the Pascagoula School District plans on paying its first-year certified teachers a minimum of $40,000 by kicking in a salary supplement of $5,610. The district’s match increases annually based on a teacher’s years of service and level of expertise.
Compare that to the Sunflower Consolidated District, which put up a salary supplement of $1,000 for the current school year. These variations aren’t reflected in reports showing Mississippi’s average teacher salary alone.
Great Recession still hurts
Compared to the earnings they brought home on average in 2010, Mississippi teachers are still playing catch-up, according to an analysis by Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution.
Before accounting for inflation, the average teacher wage in the state in 2010 was $45,664. In today’s spending, accounting for inflation, the figure increases to more than $51,000. It also means Mississippi’s average teacher pay ($42,925, according to the NCES data Hansen used) would have to increase by more than $8,000 to close the gap.
“This is a metric that represents what teachers used to be able to buy with their money in Mississippi,” Hansen explained. “It’s the closest thing we can get to measure a loss that teachers have sustained over time."