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Mississippi’s new governor made bold commitments to increasing teacher pay. Could this be a game changer?

Deciding the fate of the state’s charter schools and debating better teacher pay are among the prominent K12 issues in the Magnolia State this year

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When I dropped by Mississippi’s Capitol this week, it looked like move-in day at my college dorm. From the fresh coats of paint, it was apparent that lawmakers were still getting settled in.

Expect a ramp-up soon. There’s no shortage of ideas among the state’s legislative body when it comes to addressing education: Lawmakers filed more than 200 bills focused on K-12 schools last year.

Related: Online prekindergarten access and funds for school counselors among bills proposed in Mississippi this year

I’ll spend the next few months tracking the new proposals they’re debating. An early prediction? Expect a teacher pay raise discussion. Last year’s $1,500 raise wasn’t enough for many Mississippi educators — who earn less than $40,000 as a starting salary — to afford rent on their own, or get by without a second, or even a third, job. Mississippi’s newly sworn-in Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who leads the Senate, has indicated the issue is at the forefront of his legislative agenda. And Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, who takes office on January 14, rolled out a four-year plan to increase the state’s teacher salaries by $4,200, to push Mississippi’s starting salary closer to the Southeastern average, which was about $50,000 during the 2017-2018 school year.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright wants to see an additional $3.2 million for the state’s well-regarded pre-K program and an additional $1 million invested in the state’s early literacy initiatives. The agency’s budget requests have been underfunded in the past, but Wright has Mississippi’s impressive NAEP showing to bolster the case that her ideas are boosting student achievement. The question is whether lawmakers will view the progress so far as proof that more money isn’t necessary, and vote down requests for more funding, or whether Wright and other education advocates will be able to convince legislators  additional funds are needed to build on the state’s achievements and propel the state even farther.

Related: Mississippi made the biggest leap in national test scores this year. Is this controversial law the reason why?

All eyes might be on Mississippi’s statehouse over the next four months, but we know the most important education stories unfold in the classroom. Here are a few more stories I’ll be tracking this year:

  • Charter schools: Mississippi’s first two charter schools are at the end of their five-year contract and the state’s authorizer board will decide whether the privately managed schools can stay open and whether they may have to meet any additional requirements. Results have been a mixed bag. ReImagine Prep has a B-rating, while Midtown Public Charter School improved to a D after three years of failing ratings. Something else to look out for? The state’s second rural charter will open this fall.
  • Achievement School District: Mississippi took its cues from Tennessee when the Magnolia State designed a state-run district, aimed at academically overhauling poorly performing schools. As Mississippi launches its turnaround plan, Tennessee is preparing to return schools that are still among the worst-performing in the state to local control. With Mississippi’s Achievement School District just in its inaugural year, I’ll look at lessons the state can learn from next door.

Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Mississippi Learning newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Monday with trends and top stories about education in Mississippi. Subscribe today!

This story about the Mississippi Legislature was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Bracey Harris

Bracey Harris is a staff writer. Before joining The Hechinger Report, she covered politics and education for the Clarion Ledger where she also focused on… See Archive

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