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Missouri ranks 50th in the nation for starting teacher pay

Empty desks sit in a classroom on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills. The school, along with those within the Ritenour School District, will have a day off Monday for mental health purposes.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Empty desks sit in a classroom at Hoech Middle School in the Ritenour School District.

Missouri teachers are paid some of the lowest starting salaries in the nation, according to a new review of teacher pay from the National Education Association, a teachers union.

On average, starting salaries for Missouri teachers are a little more than $33,200. Only Montana pays new teachers less.

Even Missouri teachers with more experience are in the bottom five of states for average pay; the review found the average Missouri teacher salary is $51,600. That is much less than professionals with similar levels of education in the state, said Mark Jones, communications director for the Missouri National Education Association.

“Asking educators to sacrifice, over the course of their life, 25 or 30% of what their contemporaries could be making is a lot to ask,” Jones said. “It's hard to make a case for a person coming out of college that they should go into education.”

Missouri also pays significantly less than its neighboring states. Jones said that's especially problematic because the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas straddle state lines, so it’s easy for teachers to find jobs across the border without having to move.

Illinois’ average teacher pay is almost $20,000 more than Missouri’s. Kansas’ is more comparable but is still about $2,000 more, and the state’s starting pay is about $6,000 more than Missouri’s.

“Even for the Midwest, we are lagging behind,” Jones said. “We're just not competing in the way we should to get high-quality teachers in our classrooms.”

This is an issue that politicians and state education leaders have repeatedly said needs to be fixed. In January, during his 2022 State of the State address, Gov. Mike Parson said raising teacher pay should be a priority.

“Missouri is currently ranked 50th in the United States for starting teacher pay, and half of our new teachers leave the profession by their fifth year,” Parson said. “This is unacceptable, and we must do better.”

There are multiple efforts to raise pay statewide, including a bill in the legislature that would increase starting teacher salaries in the state to $38,000 a year, the amount Parson initially proposed.

The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, but the original House version cut this funding. Now both chambers will work to find a compromise that may or may not include the raise.

Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has also created a commission to examine teacher recruitment and retention, including pay. It includes prominent Missouri business leaders like Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, and Missouri’s 2021 teacher of the year Darrion Cockrell from the Lindbergh School District in St. Louis County.

Jones is skeptical and said similar efforts haven’t led to change in the past.

“It's frustrating a bit because I think every legislative session starts with a good intent to try to solve this problem,” Jones said. “What we really need is to focus on the legislature's action rather than another study or commission.”

The commission is supposed to release findings about what it believes is needed in an October report.

Sarah Kellogg contributed to this report. 

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.