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Why I'm a Member: Strength in Numbers

Gaining ground in the fight for fair pay in Mississippi

Patricia Daniels has seen colleagues come and go, lured by the significantly higher salaries in neighboring states. And she also has heard the stories of teachers struggling to make ends meet, even while working second and third jobs.

At $41,944 a year on average, Mississippi teachers earn the second lowest salaries in the United States. (South Dakota takes the tin trophy for worst.) Just by moving a few miles across the border to Alabama or Louisiana, teachers can earn $5,000 to $10,000 a year more. So, when the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) enjoined a forceful campaign for fair pay for teachers, Daniels joined the cavalry, firing off one email after another to state legislators.

“Every time [MAE leaders] said we need to contact our legislators, I did it. Probably a good 10 or 15 times,” said the Jackson, Mississippi math teacher. And she wasn't the only one: MAE's members, by the thousands, were making the case for salaries that would not only attract great teachers to Mississippi schools, but also keep them there.

And it worked! In April, the state's governor signed into law a bill that provides $1,500 raises for every Mississippi teacher this year, plus additional $1,000 raises next year.

“Hopefully the pay increase will motivate or inspire teachers that are thinking of leaving to stay in the state of Mississippi,” said Daniels. “We're still not where we should be, but it is an improvement.”

Without the MAE and the united voice of its members, Daniels believes the raises wouldn't have happened. “If it weren't for our organization, we'd have what we have.” With the raises on the way, Daniels plans to save some, but much of it will likely go where a lot of teachers' money goes—to their students.

“Teachers here, when they do make money, end up spending a lot of it to buy supplies for our students,” said Daniels. “We don't have a lot of the materials we need and you have to do what you have to do. We have to make sure we provide for our students to get a good education.”