The Mississippi Legislature has tried all sorts of things to encourage more people to enter the teaching field. But for various reasons, many school districts in the state scramble each year to fill all their available positions.
So lawmakers appear poised to try something different this year. Last week the Senate approved a bill in which taxpayer money will be used to make payments toward the student loan debt of new teachers.
Educators who are accepted into the program and stick with it for its full three years will have a total of $10,500 of their debt paid by the state. The award is greater for teachers who agree to work in a district designated as one with a critical teacher shortage: Anyone completing three years in those locations would receive debt payments totalling $16,500.
This is worth a try. In the past, the state had used incentives to pay college tuition for prospective teachers. The new program, if the House and Gov. Tate Reeves agree, is focused on helping teachers who have signed employment contracts — not college students who might become teachers one day.
Should this become law, it could be especially helpful for rural, small-population districts that struggle to attract teachers. It’s certain that several districts in this part of the state have the critical teacher shortage designation.
If the lure of up to $16,500 in loan payments is able to attract just a handful of teachers to each of these critical-needs districts, the state’s investment would make a significant difference.
Coupled with a teacher pay raise that appears imminent, lawmakers are trying to make public education a more financially competitive career. Good for them.