Mississippi could continue a program to help retain and attract educators to the state amid an ongoing teacher shortage after the House and Senate both advanced competing bills to extend the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act.

The program provides incentives to attract qualified teachers to certain geographic areas of the state, such as the Delta, and to specific subject areas designated by the Mississippi Board of Education. Teachers can receive a one-time reimbursement of up to $1,000 for relocation expenses. They can also receive a grant of up to $6,000 to pay closing costs on a home inside the same county as the school where they are teaching.

The bills, which passed the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday, would both extend the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act beyond its July 1, 2024, repealer date to July 1, 2027.

“It is important for the state to provide every possible incentive to recruit excellent teachers to areas of the state that have extreme teacher shortages,” Parent’s Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome told the Crirec on March 7, signaling support for the effort.

2023/2024 Mississippi Geographical Critical Shortages Areas chart
Each year, the Mississippi Department of Education designates certain school districts as critical shortage areas. Teachers in those districts are eligible for incentives under the Mississippi Critical Shortage Act. These were the geographical critical shortage locations identified in July 2023. Graphic by Mississippi Department of Education

Mississippi’s teacher shortage has been a critical issue in the state for years. The Mississippi Department of Education already has several alternate-route teacher education programs in place and has begun working with the state’s colleges and universities to expand teacher preparation programs.

MDE has designated 103 school districts as critical needs for the 2023-2024 school year and also designated critical shortage subject areas in math, special education, science and foreign languages.

“Math remains our greatest area of need at 149 vacancies in middle school,” MDE Executive Director of Educator Talent Acquisition Courtney Van Cleve said during a presentation at a Feb. 15 Mississippi State Board of Education meeting.

She said “special education remains another one of our big areas of need as a whole.”

“This is also one of those areas where we’re still on the decline since when we started the survey administration,” Van Cleve said.

The House and Senate must reach an agreement on a final bill to send to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk.

Awards:

Report for America Local News Award, Solutions-Based Reporting, First Place

Torsheta Jackson is MFP's education-equity reporter, in collaboration with Report for America. She is passionate about telling the unique and personal stories of the people, places and events in Mississippi. The Shuqualak, Miss., native holds a B.A. in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Mississippi. She has had bylines on Bash Brothers Media, Mississippi Scoreboard and in the Jackson Free Press. Torsheta lives in Richland, Miss., with her husband, Victor, and two of their four children.