JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – With budget shortfalls across the state, all departments are tightening belts. That’s including education which is also experiencing a teacher shortage.
“As of yesterday there were 98 vacancies to teach either middle school or high school mathematics, and there were 70 vacancies to teach either middle school or high school science,” says Dana Franz, Associate Professor at Mississippi State University. She has followed the trend of teacher shortages for three years. Franz says those critical-need areas are in the poorer parts of the state, particularly the Mississippi Delta.
“I think there is a shortage in Mississippi because it’s really difficult to move away from what you’re used to out in the Mississippi Delta. You don’t really know anybody there so you’re isolated you may not have the teacher support that you need,” says Franz. Also, salaries play a significant role. Neighboring Tennessee and Alabama offer much more than what Mississippi can, “usually get about $5,000 – $10,000 more in pay,” adds Franz. “Maybe a third of my students have moved to Texas. Because Texas pays a lot more than we do.”
There’s about $6.2 billion in the state’s budget, a majority of that goes towards education.
“If we want to get it done, I think the money is there. It’s just a matter of making the hard choices of lowering the priority on something else and heightening the priority on whatever it is we want to do,” says Republican Representative Joel Bomgar from Madison County. He says some of that money was budgeted towards a bond bill filled with “random” projects. Those include $200,000 to the Jackson Zoo; $50,000 to Utica infrastructure and $500,000 to Vicksburg tourism. “A bunch of money got spent on a bunch of stuff,” says Bomgar.
To keep teachers in Mississippi, Franz says there are scholarships offered with incentives such as money to work in an area like the Delta for a set number of years.