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Recruitment And Salary Increases Part Of Effort To Retain Teachers In Missouri

Jeff Konkel is a teacher with KIPP St. Louis charter schools after completing a teacher residency program to recruit second-career teachers.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Jeff Konkel is a teacher with KIPP St. Louis charter schools after completing a teacher residency program to recruit second-career teachers.

Updated Jan. 9 with information about teacher recruitment efforts

Missouri education officials have a handful of ideas on how to get more people interested in becoming public school teachers and then staying in the classroom for the long term.

It goes along with a nearly $400 million pitch to increase teacher pay detailed last month.

The six-point recruitment and retention plan reviewed and compiled by a teachers working group was presented to the State Board of Education during its monthly meeting Thursday.

Missouri ranks among the worst nationwide for teacher pay and worst among its neighboring Midwestern states. Enrollment in college education programs is also waning, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Ideas include a marketing campaign to promote teaching as a rewarding career, expanding college scholarships for students studying education, developing an alternative teacher certification, and expanding “grow your own” programs to every high school in the state. Currently, only 77 high schools offer programs that give students exposure to the teaching field.

To retain teachers, proposals include mentoring more first-year teachers and improving school culture and climate through more mental health resources. Pay will also be a big factor in keeping teachers.

The department will need “lots of help,” Assistant Education Commissioner Paul Katnik said.

“Our K-12 school districts will have to be involved. All of our higher ed institutions who are helping with preparation are going to have a role to play,” Katnik said. “Obviously, at the policy level, we have roles to play for our state board members and for our lawmakers.”

Original story from Dec. 16, 2019Missouri’s education department has come up with a plan to pay public school teachers more.

It would take nearly $400 million to lift Missouri from the bottom of state rankings for teacher compensation to the middle of the pack.

“It’s just important to emphasize this just kind of catches us up,” said Paul Katnik, an assistant education commissioner at the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

Katnik presented the plan to the State Board of Education during its monthly meeting in early December. Board members will further discuss the initiative Wednesday when they consider legislative priorities for the 2020 session.

The proposal has three parts: increase the base minimum pay for teachers from $25,000 to $32,000, give all teachers a $4,000 raise, and create a fund to entice teachers toward hard-to-fill positions. Education officials, teachers and education associations crafted the plan.

It would cost $322.8 million to give teachers DESE’s preferred pay bump of $4,000 a year — plus extra for those who would still be below the new $32,000 minimum. That would move the average teacher salary in Missouri to just over $54,000 from its current $48,000, bringing Missouri up to 26th in the country for average teacher pay from 40th, according to data from the National Education Association.

Giving teachers just a $2,000 annual raise would drop the cost to $162.2 million and bring the average pay to $52,160.

Missouri has just over 70,400 public school teachers. Only a few hundred make below what would be the updated minimum of $32,000, mostly in small, rural districts. 

A survey published in May concluded lack of compensation is the biggest reason many of them leave the classroom. Loading...

“We are losing teachers in the profession because of pay, and we are finding it more and more difficult to recruit teachers into the profession because of pay,” said Bruce Moe, executive director of the Missouri State Teachers Association, a union representing rural and suburban teachers.

State board members have said previously that they agree low pay is a concern but that encouraging teachers to stay in the field also requires improving school culture and leadership.

On top of paying all teachers more, DESE is floating the idea of creating a $75 million fund to recruit teachers to hard-to-fill roles, such as teaching in high-poverty or rural schools or teaching subjects such as high school science or English as a second language classes for immigrants. 

Because of rigid teacher contracts, districts are limited in how much more they can pay teachers for roles that either require additional training, such as special education, or in subjects where pay is far below the private sector, such as science.

While lawmakers have fully funded the Foundation Formula that doles out per-pupil state aid to school districts, they have fallen way short of meeting its statutory mandate for reimbursing schools for transportation costs. Early childhood education also receives little in state funds.

“I do believe our teachers deserve to be paid a little better,” said Rep. Chuck Basye, a Republican from the Columbia area who was named chairperson of the Missouri House’s education committee last month.

Coming up with the money will be determined largely by the House committee that writes the budget, but Basye said as he gets up to speed on education issues in the coming weeks, it’s something he’ll be looking into.

“We want to be competitive; we want the best possible teachers we can get,” he added.

“It’s possible, if the Legislature decides it’s a priority,” said Mark Jones, the legislative director for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, another teachers’ union. “We find the money for large corporations. This benefits everyone. There’s a need to have this conversation.”

Details such as the mechanics of where the funding would come from and how teachers would be paid have not been ironed out.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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Ryan is a reporter on the education desk at St. Louis Public Radio, covering both higher education and the many school districts in the St. Louis region. He has previously reported for public radio stations WFYI in Indianapolis and WRVO in upstate New York. He began his journalism career working part time for WAER while attending Syracuse University. He's won multiple reporting awards and his work, which has aired on NPR, The Takeaway and WGBH's Innovation Hub. Having grown up in Burlington, Vt., he often spends time being in the woods hiking, camping, and skiing.