JACKSON • New teachers in Mississippi could get help paying off their college loans under a law that authorized the Senate on Thursday.
Senators also approved a bill to ensure that teachers who move to Mississippi do not face licensing hurdles if they have already obtained a license from another state.
Both proposals are part of a legislative push this year to address Mississippi’s teacher shortage. Although exact figures on teacher vacancies are not available, the Mississippi Department of Education has previously reported that about one in three districts is suffering from a severe staff shortage.
“Attracting more properly trained people to the profession and keeping them in the classroom is imperative to continue to improve educational outcomes, especially as we recover from the pandemic,” said the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, in a statement.
Lawmakers have tried repeatedly over the past decades to address the shortage of educators, to no avail. This year, they’re pushing both college debt and licensing bills – along with a $ 1,000 pay raise – which they hope will help attract more teachers and convince more to stay longer. in the state. Mississippi teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.
Senate Bill 2305, drafted by Senator David Blount, D-Jackson, would create a repayment program in which the state would pay a fixed amount for a teacher’s loan during the first three years of his or her career.
Blount said the state has implemented a series of similar loan forgiveness programs over the years. But these programs were often not funded. And the way they were set up meant that the state often had to act as a collection agency when teachers chose to change professions or relocate elsewhere, he said.
The new proposal would help gradually repay student loans for teachers at the start of their teaching careers. At the end of their first year of teaching, teachers could get either $ 2,500 or $ 4,500 of their state-repaid loans, depending on whether they chose to work in a district with a severe teacher shortage.
In the third and final year of the repayment program, this teacher would receive $ 4,500 or $ 6,500 for his loans, depending on whether he is working in a district where there is a shortage of teachers.
Blount estimated the program would cost the state around $ 3.9 million in the first year.
The bill is called “William F. Winter and Jack Reed, Sr., Teacher Loan Repayment Program,” to honor both the late governor and the Tupelo businessman who helped improve public education in the state. Only two senators voted against Thursday: Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville and Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told reporters on Thursday that the loan program – plus the $ 1,000 salary increase for all teachers – aims to help teachers in the first three years of their careers, when their salaries remain stable.
“What we’re trying to do here is increase that compensation and tell these teachers that we appreciate what they’re doing,” Hosemann said. “Fill that three-year (salary) freeze they have, help them with their college expenses.”
When you pay teachers a little more and persuade them to stay, Hosemann argued, “you invest in an intellect that will pay taxes for 50 or 60 years.”
The Senate also passed SB 2267, designed to make it easier and faster for teachers licensed in another state to begin teaching in Mississippi. This would allow that teacher to obtain a full five-year teacher’s license within 30 days, provided he can pass a background check.
“He’s basically saying that anyone who has a standard license in another state and moves to Mississippi to teach will have their license processed in Mississippi,” said Senator Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune. “We’ve had a lot of issues with teachers moving here and can’t get a license.”
Both proposals are now before the House for consideration.
Luke Ramseth is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.