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Final Missouri teacher shortage commission recommendations focus on 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 Breckenridge Hills.

After months of meetings and studies, a Missouri commission on the state’s teacher shortage has come to a consensus: Teachers need more money.

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission presented its recommendations to the state’s board of education Tuesday. The first was to raise starting teacher salaries from $25,000 to $38,000 annually and to require annual reviews to make sure the salaries remain competitive. Missouri’s minimum teacher salary has not been updated since 2005.

“We cannot fall behind again like we have and play catch-up,” said Mark Walker, chair of the commission. “It just is not healthy.”

The commission also said the state should establish a fund to give teachers at all levels raises, and it recommended a change to Missouri’s constitution to make it possible to give in-demand teachers bonuses or salary supplements. Those are currently prevented by four articles in the state constitution and provisions of the Missouri Teacher Tenure Act. The commission found other states successfully recruited more teachers into difficult-to-fill positions by giving them bonuses or higher pay.

That last point is especially important to Walker, who is CEO of a trucking company based in Springfield.

“This was the biggest surprise, perhaps, for businesspeople serving on the Blue Ribbon Commission, is the lack of flexibility that you all have for meeting high-needs positions,” Walker told the board. “It's unbelievably inappropriate in today's highly competitive marketplace.”

Special education, elementary and science teachers are especially in demand, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Teacher retention is also a bigger problem in low-income school districts and districts that have predominantly students of color, the commission reported.

School funding fairness

State board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge called school funding inequity the “elephant in the room” during the presentation.

“I don't know what more evidence we need to suggest that we have a problem with resource deployment,” Westbrooks-Hodge said. “I suggest none of the pain points that we've talked about we find in affluent school districts.”

The commission’s report says Missouri’s heavy reliance on local tax revenue for education means schools that need the most resources often receive the least, but reevaluating the school funding formula was not one of the recommendations from the commission. It was listed as an “area of future work.”

Most of the commission’s recommendations would require either legislation or amendments to Missouri’s constitution.

This year, the legislature created a grant for school districts to increase their starting salary to $38,000, but there was no guarantee that money would be available again next year. Because it wasn’t a sustainable change, some school districts didn’t take the grant. Others did, but are wondering what will happen next year.

Normandy and Riverview Gardens

The state board of education also took action Tuesday regarding two school districts that are not fully accredited. It voted to allow residents in Riverview Gardens and the Normandy Schools Collaborative to elect more school board members to replace people the state appointed.

This is part of the process of returning to full accreditation for the two provisionally accredited districts. In April, voters elected two new members in each district for the first time in years. Next year, voters will bring the communities even closer to local control.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke 

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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