Mississippi Education

Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leaksville, right, and vice chairman David Blount, D-Jackson, listen as State Superintendent of the Mississippi Department of Education Carey Wright provides the committee an update on the pandemic’s impact on K-12 schools at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

JACKSON • After a failed attempt last year, Mississippi lawmakers again plan to push ahead with a teacher pay raise in the coming days.

Senate Bill 2001 would give all teachers a $1,000 raise and set starting pay at $37,000 – up more than $1,100. It would also provide assistant teachers’ a minimum salary of $15,000, up $1,000.

The teacher pay bill fell apart last year because of coronavirus-induced budget problems. But Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, said Wednesday his committee plans to discuss the legislation in short order, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann ranks it among his top priorities.

A teacher salary bump isn’t all state education leaders hope to get from lawmakers this year, however. State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told senators this week she hopes they fund several other priorities, especially early childhood education.

Children who attend a good preschool are more likely to be reading at the correct level by third grade, she said. They are also more likely to graduate from high school on time, more likely to be employed, and less likely to be in trouble with the law.

“The research is just so strong around this, it’s irrefutable,” Wright told the Senate Education Committee, adding she’ll take as much money as they can allocate to expand the state’s early childhood learning collaboratives.

According to Wright, there are currently 3,300 children in pre-kindergarten collaboratives statewide, and it’s clear those children arrive in kindergarten better prepared. But Mississippi gives less funding for such programs than many other states, Wright said.

Wright pointed to Alabama as a success story. That state has grown its state-funded pre-K program from 5,000 children in 2013 to 21,000 four-year-olds last year, according to the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. And it’s targeted some of the poorest counties in the state, a report by AL.com said.

“(States) around us are doing this, and it’s a known quantity,” Wright said. “It’s not something we have to experiment with – is it going to work, is it not going to work? No. We’ve got a track record of this working.”

MDE says there are 18 state-funded collaboratives now. Sen Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said there are many more facilities on a waiting list for more state funding. The collaboratives involve a partnership between school districts, Head Start agencies, child care centers and nonprofits.

DeBar noted lawmakers pushed more than $1 million more into the program last year, but he also pointed out the state’s diminished budget amid the pandemic.

“We know the results are spectacular, it’s just, do we have the revenue?” he said.

Wright said she also hopes lawmakers consider funding more literacy coaches in schools. They help create and implement better reading and writing strategies in the classroom, she noted.

“Schools that are supported by our literacy coaches are doing better than schools that are not,” she said.

Twitter: @lramseth

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