How bad are start­ing salaries for Mis­souri teach­ers? Even Mis­sis­sippi pays more

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion -


Mis­souri is hem­or­rhag­ing teach­ers. Only about a third of teach­ers hired these days stay on the job for at least five years, a re­port last month by the Mis­souri Depart­ment of El­e­men­tary and Se­condary Ed­u­ca­tion showed. Just onethird.

Na­tion­ally, about 8 per­cent of teach­ers leave their po­si­tions each year. In Mis­souri, it’s 11 per­cent.

Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials won­der why, and here’s at least part of the an­swer. Mis­souri has the sec­ond-low­est av­er­age start­ing salary for teach­ers in the na­tion.

We top only Mon­tana. And, yes, that’s as pa­thetic as it is stun­ning.

Ev­ery state that bor­ders Mis­souri does bet­ter than the Show-Me State in start­ing salary. Even Mis­sis­sippi, typ­i­cally the bench­mark for lousy ser­vices, pays more. That’s sim­ply dis­grace­ful for a state led by of­fi­cials who pro­claim the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion.

Mis­souri checks in at an av­er­age start­ing salary of $31,842, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion this week. Kansas is at $34,883; Iowa is at $35,766; Ken­tucky stands at $36,494 and Mis­sis­sippi comes in at $34,780. The U.S. av­er­age: $38,617.

The pic­ture in some ways is even bleaker. The min­i­mum teacher pay the Gen­eral As­sem­bly sets is $25,000. Turns out, some teach­ers in ru­ral dis­tricts are ac­tu­ally paid that pal­try amount. That puts them in the range of $12 an hour. That, of course, puts them in the range of jan­i­tors and se­cu­rity guards.

Mis­souri edges out 10 states with its $48,293 av­er­age teacher pay. But when ad­justed for in­fla­tion, teacher pay has dropped 5.5 per­cent since 2000. We can do bet­ter, can’t we?

As as­sis­tant ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner Paul Kat­nik points out, the most im­por­tant fac­tor in the ed­u­ca­tion equa­tion is the teacher in the class­room. You can change the num­ber of days school is open each year. You can ad­just the cur­ricu­lum. But in the end, it’s the qual­ity of the teacher that mat­ters most.

“Keep in mind that teach­ers are the most im­por­tant as­set of the sys­tem,” Kat­nik said.

One na­tional sur­vey of teach­ers across the coun­try showed that salary was eas­ily the most im­por­tant fac­tor in re­cruit­ing new teach­ers. When it comes to re­tain­ing those teach­ers to stay on the job, salary fin­ishes in a vir­tual tie with the at­mos­phere of a school and its lead­er­ship as the most im­por­tant fac­tors.

“I don’t think there’s any ques­tion that the money part of this is an is­sue,” state School Board pres­i­dent Char­lie Shields told St. Louis Pub­lic Ra­dio. “We rec­og­nize that, but it’s cer­tainly not the only is­sue out there.”

In Kansas City, An­drea Flin­ders, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers Lo­cal 691, said salary re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­a­tion. “Young teach­ers are com­ing out of schools with tremen­dous debt,” she said. “Mak­ing those pay­ments be­comes such a hard­ship on them.”

As law­mak­ers launch their 2019 ses­sion, teacher pay isn’t even on the radar. That should change. Leg­is­la­tors fully funded the school foun­da­tion for­mula the last two years, but that didn’t re­solve the teacher pay is­sue.

One rea­son: Law­mak­ers con­tinue to dra­mat­i­cally un­der­fund the cost of trans­port­ing kids to school by about $200 mil­lion a year. That forces dis­tricts to use foun­da­tion for­mula money to cover bus costs, leav­ing less flex­i­bil­ity to raise pay.

Law­mak­ers could also make a state­ment by rais­ing the min­i­mum pay re­quire­ment, which re­mains em­bar­rass­ing.

Teacher pay must be on Mis­souri’s agenda this year.


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