JACKSON • New Mississippi teachers could get help paying back their college loans under legislation that cleared the Senate on Thursday.
Senators also approved a bill to ensure teachers moving to Mississippi don’t run into licensing hurdles if they have already obtained a license from another state.
Both proposals are part of a legislative push this year to fix Mississippi’s teacher shortage. Though specific numbers on teacher vacancies are not available, the Mississippi Department of Education has previously reported about one in three districts have a severe staffing shortage.
“Attracting more properly trained people to the profession and then keeping them in the classroom is imperative to continuing to improve academic achievement, especially as we recover from the pandemic,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, said in a statement.
Lawmakers have tried several times in recent decades to fix the shortage of educators, to no avail. This year, they are pushing both the college debt and licensing bills – as well as a $1,000 pay raise – which they hope will help attract more teachers and convince more to stay in the state longer. Mississippi teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.
Senate Bill 2305, authored by Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, would create a repayment program where the state would pay a set amount toward a teacher’s college loan over the first three years of their career.
Blount explained the state has had a series of similar loan forgiveness programs over the years. But those programs often went unfunded. And the way they were set up meant the state frequently had to act as a collections agency when the teachers opted to change their professions or move elsewhere, he said.
The new proposal would help pay down teachers’ student loans incrementally as they begin their teaching careers. At the end of their first year of teaching, teachers could get either $2,500 or $4,500 of their loans repaid by the state, depending on whether they chose to work in a district with a severe teacher shortage.
By the third and final year of the repayment program, that teacher would get either $4,500 or $6,500 paid toward their loans, depending if they work in a district with a lack of teachers.
Blount estimated the program would cost the state about $3.9 million in the first year.
The bill is called the “William F. Winter and Jack Reed, Sr., Teacher Loan Repayment Program,” to honor both the late governor and Tupelo businessman who helped improve public education in the state. Only two senators voted against it Thursday: Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told reporters Thursday that the loan program – plus the pending $1,000 salary increase for all teachers – aims to help teachers in the first three years of their careers, when their salaries remain flat.
“What we’re trying to do here is raise those compensations, and tell those teachers we appreciate what they’re doing,” Hosemann said. “Bridge this three year (salary) freeze that they’ve got, help them with their collegiate expenses.”
When you pay teachers a little more and convince them to stick around, Hosemann argued, “you’re investing in intellect that will be paying 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 start teaching in Mississippi. It would allow that teacher to get a full five-year teacher license within 30 days, as long as they can pass a background check.
“It basically says anyone who has a standard license in another state and moves to Mississippi to teach will have their license processed in Mississippi,” said Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune. “We’ve had a lot of problems with teachers moving here and not being able to get licensed.”
Both proposals now head to the House for consideration.