JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Educators from across Missouri told members of the State Board of Education’s Blue Ribbon Commission the reasons why teachers are leaving the field is due to a lack of support and pay.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) previously said last fall there were more than 3,000 positions in Missouri classrooms that were either left vacant or were filled by someone not qualified. This year, roughly 25% of the state’s 550 school districts are implementing a four-day week due to a shortage of teachers.
“Today, we’re here to talk about the crisis in Missouri and I’m not talking about COVID or monkeypox, I’m here to talk about the crisis of education,” said Shawn Harris, art teacher at Tipton School District. “Salaries are so low that new and veteran teachers are having to find oftentimes a second job in order to make ends meet.”
Harris, also a member of the Pettis County R-XII School Board, was one of a dozen educators who spoke to members of the Blue Ribbon Commission Wednesday in Jefferson City.
“We are seeing people leave this field, we are seeing people not enter this field because of low pay,” said Harris. “It’s difficult to find substitutes when teachers leave and fill those gaps.”
The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission is made up of 22 members from the business communities, lawmakers, and other educators who were appointed in the spring by the Missouri Board of Education.
It’s a crucial time in the state’s education system. While Missouri struggles with a lack of teachers, the commission is spending months studying retention and recruitment. Part of their research was asking educators what they would do.
“Not only has our pay struggled to keep pace with inflation, but the duties also asked of teachers have been added to compounded,” said Nick Crabtree, a teacher for the Brandson Public School District.
He said he traveled to Jefferson City with his wife Cambria, a teacher at Nixa Jr. High.
“If you ask a contractor to do more, they are going to charge you more,” said Crabtree. “Teachers have been asked to do more and the other hand hasn’t come in balance.”
Kathy Steinhoff recently retired after more than three decades of teaching at Columbia. She told members the state has never funded education properly and fully.
“I retired this past year after teaching 34 years and I can tell you that the last four years have been extremely difficult and something only those in the classroom now can comprehend,” said Steinhoff. “Of course increasing base pay is a critical and essential component that requires more funding.”
Last month, the governor approved nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to increase minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. Under the legislation, the state pays for 70% while the rest is on the district.
Missouri currently has the lowest starting teacher wage in the country with an average of $32,970. According to the National Education Association, the national average starting wage for educators is $41,163.
Cambria said before lawmakers and education officials make any changes; she wants them to come to spend a day inside a classroom to understand.
“Actually, being in a classroom and seeing what it’s like is completely different than just hearing our testimony up here,” said Cambria. “If you come to visit, don’t just visit for one hour. If you come to visit, stay in a classroom the whole day. Come back multiple times. Don’t come and ask to see a dog and pony show.”
Those working in some of the state’s smallest districts like Jackee Collins are asking for more support.
“Six years in the industry as a teacher and while salary is important, I understand our small school districts are important too and deserve the same amount of money and assets,” said Collins. “It’s not always about the salary. It is important, but you have to fund our small school districts and give us the support.”
Collins said she makes less than $38,000 a year even though she has three master’s degrees in the Delta R-X School District, but does it because she wants to make a difference.
Steinhoff agrees with Collins, that raising the minimum salary for every teacher in the state isn’t the best way to go about retention.
“We have such diversity in the districts across our state,” said Steinhoff. “We need to let our local communities make decisions and not consider a statewide salary schedule or consolidate schools.”
Rebeka McIntosh is the vice president of the Missouri National Education Association (NEA) and a teacher at Grandview School District near Kansas City. She recommends giving teachers more planning time.
“If we could allow educators to do one job, that they are such professionals at, and not to the six and seven jobs that they are doing right now,” said McIntosh.
Back in June, the State Board of Education voted to expand testing scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. By tweaking the state’s qualifying score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce.
According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one to four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.
Back in April, the board approved to expand of the test scores for elementary certification exams by a -2 standard error of measurement (SEM) after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators weren’t scoring high enough.
In June, the board agreed to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means someone that missing a handful of questions would be certified.
The commission currently has a survey open until Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. for educators on DESE’s website. Click here to take the survey.