OUR OPINION: Mississippi’s teacher shortage needs action

Oxford Sen. Gray Tollison’s support for widely publicizing and promoting Mississippi’s alternate routes to teacher certification for college graduates is a good idea that could tap into some of our state’s best-educated people who might be considering changing professions or personal job situations.

Tollison, a Republican who is chairman of the Education Committee, is a long-time education supporter.

The regular route to teaching credentials is through one of the four-year baccalaureate programs in one of the state universities’ schools of education.

The alternate route offers a shorter track for college graduates through the Master of Arts in Teaching Program or the Teach Mississippi Institute Program.

Through either alternative program, a college graduate who is able to pass the state’s teacher licensure exam can take two classes under one program or an eight-week online course, plus a year’s internship, and become a teacher.

The issue’s visibility is rising because Mississippi has a shortage of qualified, credentialed teachers, especially in disciplines like special education, English, mathematics and the sciences.

Tollison said that it might help if the Department of Education had people working on university campuses to publicize the alternative route programs.

That is almost certain, but more than promotion is needed.

Mississippi’s teacher-salary situation, as has been the case almost always, is near the bottom nationwide. Information from various sources changes almost daily, but a 49th-place ranking is close to accurate.

A regionally competitive salary range plus strongly addressing the quality of life issues in areas where teachers are hardest to place must be part of the conversation.

New teachers are needed to offset retirements and to offset the low retention rate of new teachers in the state. Mississippi is apparently a fertile field for recruitment of teachers by out-of-state interests. A special legislative task force has been told that in 2012-13, 65 percent of students going through Mississippi teaching schools took jobs in other states where the pay and benefits are better. The situation is compounded because the rising generation of young adults is the most mobile in American history.

Gov. Phil Bryant has included money in his budget proposal to help fund programs to attract top-performing students to the teaching profession and to attract top college graduates to shortage areas to teach.

Interest is high and the situation cries for a well-crafted solution.