Kansas City-area schools innovate to fill critical number of teacher vacancies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansas City-area schools are trying to remedy a critical teacher shortage looming as the new school year begins, including by placing unqualified educators into some classrooms.

Some school districts have been rehiring retired teachers, or training counselors and coaches to teach, The Kansas City Star reported.

The profession’s infamous low pay combined with fewer people pursuing a teaching career have school districts scrambling to find qualified candidates, according to Paul Katnik, an assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Education.

(Photo by MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

About 11% of Missouri teaching positions are vacant every year. Last October, the Kansas Department of Education logged a 19% increase in teacher vacancies from a year earlier.

Some districts responded by filling slots with teachers who may be certified, but not to teach the subject they have been assigned. In Kansas, the state last year issued 333 “restricted licenses,” which allow more unqualified teachers into the classroom. The state issued 266 such licenses in 2017 and 162 in 2014.

“In special education, for example, school districts can’t find teachers, so they may have to hire paraprofessionals who don’t have full qualifications,” said Mark Tallman, an associate executive director with the Kansas Association of School Boards. “The No. 1 concern we hear is the staffing shortage. … Some districts literally can’t find anyone for a position.”

The challenge to find teachers is particularly daunting in special education, speech, math, science and music. The most severe shortage is in urban and rural districts, but some suburban areas have also been affected.

Missouri’s average starting teacher salary is one among the lowest in the nation at $31,842, according to the state education department. In Kansas, the average starting salary is $34,883. Both states’ average overall teacher salary is around $48,000.

In the tight labor market, Kansas schools have failed to offer competitive salaries, or salaries that keep up with inflation, Tallman said.

Teachers’ varied skills are in high demand and can land them higher-paying jobs, said Ann Jarrett, director of teaching and learning for the Missouri National Education Association.

Last year, Kansas lawmakers approved a $500 million increase in school funding. The Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to adjust the plan for inflation. And earlier this year, a bill added another $90 million per year for the next four years.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.