Missouri’s teacher shortage is complicated and a statewide commission is finalizing a variety of recommendations designed to put more teachers in front of the next generation’s workforce.
The commission has been working on the plan for a few months. The recommendations will be given to the Missouri Board of Education to ask state lawmakers to back in next year’s legislative session.
Some commission members have been very clear that the shortage will not be solved by boosting teacher pay and calling it a day, but they said during Monday’s meeting that increasing salaries is one important way to get the ball rolling. They say some of the other challenges, such as the school climate and respect for the profession, will require a deeper dive.
Missouri’s average teacher salary of nearly $33,000 is 50th in the nation.
Commission Chairman Mark Walker, of Springfield, said one of the top recommendations is to boost the starting teacher pay to at least $38,000 annually.
“For those school districts who do not have the funds to increase their teacher pay, they can apply for funding to support that. Our proposal would ask the legislature to fund that component to the extent that it was needed for those school districts,” he said.
Walker said another key recommendation is to prioritize annual state funding for the Career Ladder Program, which is intended to raise the pay for experienced teachers.
State Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, said the program funding should be an easy lift.
“It’s optional for teachers to participate. They can participate one year and not the next year,” said Burnett. “But I’ll tell you, for me and my family, it was a tremendous help. It allowed me to pay for my kid’s braces. I couldn’t have done that without the Career Ladder Program. The teacher can participate or not, and fully knowing that if they don’t participate, they don’t get the extra income.”
Lucy Berrier Matheson, with the Hunt Institute, an independent, public education policy nonprofit, said teacher pay has an impact on student success.
“Research shows that after adjusting for the local labor market, raising teacher wages by 10% subsequently reduces high school dropout rates by 3% to 4%,” she said.
Commission member Mary Schrag, of West Plains said well-educated students will put Missouri in a better financial place.
“In West Plains, I’m going to use an example where we have DRS (Technologies) and they are a manufacturing company. A lot of their employees actually go through technical training, but they all go through K through 12,” she said. “They produce things like the patriot missile carriers. It is really crucial that we have literate individuals, even if they are not advanced education, to be able to provide those kinds of services for our country, right. As a health care provider, I know I would not be a health care provider without a good education.”
Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik said about 20% to 25% of Missouri’s teachers have a second job to make ends meet.
“Obviously teachers go into the education profession with the intention of being professionals and the fact that they’re having to supplement those wages, I think speaks to the severe under investment in wages,” said state Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City.
State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said the state must increase teacher pay.
“I was in a school visit last week, where North Tech was launching their youth registered apprenticeship program for the students, high school students who told me that they were being paid $17 an hour. So, if we’re paying our students more for their youth registered apprenticeships than we’re able to pay our teachers, we have to be able to do this. I think $38,000 is very manageable. It’s like we have no choice,” said Vandeven.
Commission member Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop in St. Louis, said she is in favor of raising pay but the panel must be careful.
“When you raise the teacher salaries, especially in some of these rural communities where they don’t have insurance and they don’t have other benefits, something’s going to have to come in because now they will qualify for Medicaid before the raising of the salary. But we have to think about in those particular school districts, they’ll fall off the scale for any of those benefits that they get that support them right now,” said Clark.
Commission member Bob Wollenman, a St. Joseph business owner, said he thinks the panel is missing the mark on the wage rate and beyond.
“We are in a desperate set of circumstances. I think where we’re headed is to be staying in the top tier of low pay. I believe that we, as a group, should be waving a banner saying, ‘We want to be in the top 10% in the United States,’ and we’re not going to get there by doing what we’re doing. Who is going to be our teaching personnel in the next three to five years, if we don’t make a major adjustment,” he asked. “Giving back the taxpayers dollars that the governor is advocating right now, those dollars could go so far in us correcting.”
State Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina is the chair of the Senate Education Committee and serves on the commission. She thinks the classroom culture is a greater deterrent to teachers staying in the profession than their salary. She said discipline should be reintroduced into the classroom.
“I think that there’s no question that teachers should be paid more. On the other side of that equation, though, there are legislators who feel we have problems in the classrooms. We have children attacking their teachers. We have, in some classrooms, total dysfunction. I think part of that has happened with the mainstreaming of students maybe in the classrooms who really are not capable of being in the classroom all day,” she said. “It’s not, in my opinion, maybe producing the kind of results that we want. I think if we don’t address those things, it won’t matter what we pay teachers and I think that the legislators are also going to kind of stiffen against that until we do address those things. Some people think that I am not as big of a supporter of public education as I should be. I am a supporter of public education. I’m from a rural area, our public schools are a mainstay of our communities, but our classrooms have almost turned into a war room in some situations. We can’t have kids throwing things that their teachers and kicking and biting. Why would a person want to stay in that kind of an environment? We really need to address that. And I think once we do, then the legislators will say, ‘Okay, we’re all kind of moving in the same direction.’ I think they’re willing to help address it, but they don’t feel like they’re being heard either. Then you get into kind of a stalemate.”
Vandeven weighed in on the comments about the school environment.
“If you put people in classrooms who are not trained effectively to deal with culture and climate, it just escalates and continues and they leave and you have this constant turnover,” she said.
Another piece of the plan includes providing more full-ride scholarships to Missouri teacher college students. There would be requirements for the scholarships, such as working in an eligible district for every two years of the annual scholarship.
State Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, who serves on the commission, had suggestions. He is a former teacher and school administrator.
“I think our teachers could go through college in three years, that fourth year being a co-teaching year. That’s a paid co teaching year because they’re paying the university as they are co-teaching and they’re working, and we get our teachers through there in four years instead of instead of five years that most universities require now. When we say teachers leave in the three-to-five-year area, a lot of folks want to start families. We have such a hard time to find childcare. There are a small number of school districts, we would have done this – we would have put a daycare in our early childhood center where our young teachers that have a child could know for at least 0-2 that they would have a safe place for their child to go so they could get back in the classroom. These are all things that don’t have anything to do with salary, but they have a whole lot to do with mental health and have a whole lot to do with excitement to get into education and to stay in education if you’re getting those supports that are needed,” said Pollitt.
Members also want the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to partner with the Missouri School Boards’ Association to help districts in providing resources to address the mental health needs of school workers.
Another major component of the plan would create sustainable funding for Grow Your Own Programs statewide. These programs work to increase a district’s local pipeline of future teachers by recruiting people in their school universe, such as students, paraprofessionals and other adults there. The commission wants to provide $10,000 grants to all districts to create or expand a Grow Your Own program.
Of Missouri’s roughly 518 traditional public school districts, 470 have Grow Your Own programs.
The commission plans to present its final recommendations to the Missouri Board of Education in October.
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