A proposal from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education aims to change that
By TIM ROWDEN
Missouri teachers are among the lowest paid in the United States, and that’s saying something.
Low pay, overcrowded classrooms and little support have prompted teachers in at least half a dozen states to the streets demanding better pay and reforms. Many are leaving the profession altogether.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the country lost 60,000 jobs in education, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs remain unfilled.
“If we include the number of jobs that should have been created just to keep up with growing student enrollment, we are currently experiencing a 307,000-job shortfall in public education,” EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould said.
Teacher strikes in several states over the last few years have highlighted deteriorating teacher pay as a critical issue.
Personal finance site WalletHub detailed lists of the 15 Best and Worst States in which to teach. Missouri ranked 12th among the 15 Worst States.
WalletHub ranked the states based on how they scored in two categories:
- Opportunity and competition – how competitive salaries were, teacher pensions, and income growth; and
- Academic and work environment – the quality of the school system, student per teacher ratios and the rate of turnover.
Being a teacher can look vastly different depending on which state you work in.
Illinois, for instance, ranks sixth among the 15 Best States to be a teacher – despite last year’s 11-day teacher strike in Chicago, the nation’s third largest school district, which ended with the city agreeing to spend millions of dollars reducing class sizes, hire hundreds more social workers, nurses and librarians and increase salaries by 16 percent over five years.
The average salary for public school teachers in Missouri was $50,064 in the 2018-19 school year, according to National Education Association data. In Illinois, the average was $66,600.
A PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE
The Missouri State Board of Education is backing a nearly $400 million proposal from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to boost teacher pay and lift Missouri from the bottom of state rankings for teacher compensation to the middle of the pack.
The proposal, crafted by education officials, teachers and education associations, has three parts:
1) Give all public school teachers a $4,000 raise.
2) Increase the base minimum pay for teachers from $25,000 to $32,000.
3) Establish a $75 million equity fund to offer hiring incentives in hard-to-staff subject areas, such as special education, math and English as a second language, and in underserved regions in the state.
Missouri has just over 70,400 public school teachers.
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, raising the average teacher salary in Missouri to just over $54,000 from its current $48,000. That would bring Missouri up to 26th in the country for average teacher pay from its current 40th place ranking, according to data from the National Education Association.
Giving Missouri teachers just a $2,000 annual raise would drop the cost to $162.2 million and bring the average pay to $52,160.
A DESE survey published in May concluded lack of compensation is the biggest reason most teachers leave the classroom in Missouri.
The Missouri House of Representatives, this session, is considering a bill (HB1990), sponsored by Rep. Brenda Shields (R- Buchanan County) that would raise minimum teacher’s salaries by $1,000 per year for seven consecutive years.
Last year, the Illinois Legislature approved a bill, later signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, raising the minimum teacher salary in the state to $40,000/year. Illinois teacher salaries will be raised incrementally from $32,076 for the 2020-21 school year to $34,576 in 2021-22, $37,076 in 2022-23 and $40,000 in 2023-24.