The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is working on offering teachers across the state a larger, more competitive salary.
The State Board of Education wants to increase the minimum teacher starting salary from $25,000 to $32,000.
Currently, the average starting teacher salary in Missouri is $32,400, ranking 48th in the nation.
Missouri ranks dead last in the region and has not taken action on increasing teacher salary in 14 years.
Increasing the minimum salary would boost pay for nearly 2,300 (three percent) of Missouri teachers, resulting in a cost of $4.4 million.
Overall salary increase would also help boost pay for the remaining 97 percent of teachers.
In a recent legislative session, the State Board of Education identified teacher recruitment and retention as a 2020 legislative priority.
The Board suggested that the House and Senate create a Joint Interim Committee to study teacher compensation and strategies to move Missouri to the median of all states in average teacher compensation.
They also suggest the committee work closely with education organizations and DESE to study alternative perks to the traditional salary schedule, including incentive pay, health benefit design, tenure, and differential pay based on subject area and geography.
The State Board of Education said this will also help recruit more teachers to the state if given a competitive salary.
Currently, teachers in Missouri earn 26.5 percent less than other college graduates.
This move would not affect any starting teacher salary in the Kansas City Public School District, who start out at roughly $39,000.
Dr. Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, said KCPS compensates because they are a larger school district, have a larger tax base, and have the ability to generate income to be able to pay teachers more than rural districts.
Although no teachers make below $32,000, Dr. Bedell said that does not mean he isn’t trying to increase pay for his teachers in the district to be more competitive.
“Ultimately, even when you think of the starting salary in our district, there are significant districts around the state and country that offer more,” he said. “There are teachers starting well into the 40s. We know we still have work to do on the front end to make that more competitive.”
Even if teachers start out at the very bottom base salary, Dr. Bedell said teachers always have the ability to earn more through coaching, tutoring and summer school.
Thinking back to his teaching days, he said this is exactly what he did— taking on extra assignments to increase his $34,000 starting teacher salary to nearly $40,000.
The challenge he said he faces doesn’t lie in recruiting, but in teacher retention.
Teaching in an inner city school presents challenges that other districts don’t face to the level KCPS does: poverty, homelessness, mobility (oftentimes, due to families being evicted), crime, food insecurity, and more.
“A teacher working at a central middle school is a significantly different assignment than a teacher perhaps working at a suburban school where, you don’t have those community factors that kids have to encounter,” he said. “They can come to school and just be a kid. These teachers have to be a lot more than just a teacher. Because of the toxic stress and social and emotional distress that kids show up with, inherently, that job assignment is going to be a lot harder, so burnout is going to be at a much higher rate.”
This, Dr. Bedell said, he wants to translate into higher compensation for those teachers who are reaching into children’s lives beyond the walls of the classroom.
“What we want to do is say to our teachers that we understand the difficulties of the assignment. We want to be able to compensate you for taking on an assignment that is deemed as a comprehensive or focused school— based on the state’s accountability system— then you should be compensated differently for taking on that assignment.”
Ultimately, Dr. Bedell said he wants prospective teachers who are willing to be part of a community, to consider the Kansas City Public School District.
“I’m not trying to just fill vacancies,” he said. “I want people who truly want to make a difference and become a part of the community. It’s a great assignment. Ultimately, you are working in a school district that has been through a lot in the past that is, in my opinion, no longer on its knees. It’s starting to perform. You get to be a part of a legacy. You get to be a part of the district get its accreditation and more importantly, you get to be a value add to the children you serve that are looking for some level of care, compassion, and accountability, and they’re looking for that from teachers. We want to market the fact that if you come here, you are being a community changer and you’re going to help change these communities and rebirth these communities.”