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Commission pushes for higher teacher pay, benefits in Missouri

by Anna Campbell | September 13, 2022 at 4:07 a.m.
State Rep. Brad Pollitt, at right, takes notes as a teacher provides thoughts on what can be done to help keep teachers in the classroom. Pollitt was joined Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, for the open meeting by Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven, Mallory McGowin and Paul Katnik, all members of the Blue Ribbon Education Commission. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

Members of the Missouri Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission finalized their recommendations to the State Board of Education on Monday, prioritizing teacher salary, stipends and benefits in their requests.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was formed to create recommendations on teacher recruitment and retention to the state board, which could in turn be forwarded to the state legislature.

The commission considered recommendations in three groups: immediate priorities, short-term priorities and long-term priorities.

Its immediate recommendations were:

• Increasing the starting teacher salary to at least $38,000

• Funding the Career Ladder program

• Establishing grant funding for district Grow Your Own Programs, which are designed to recruit teachers from within the community

Some members of the commission were concerned about the amount of money on the table between the various recommendations, while others wondered if money was the most pressing issue.

"With these three (immediate) recommendations, plus the request to continue the additional funding of transportation at 75 percent, if my figures are right, that's 330 million additional dollars to public education each year and that does not include -- the figures don't address salary schedule compression issues that come with the $38,000 increase, so I just wanted to point that out," said Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, a commission member.

"The culture of the classroom, I believe, is a greater deterrent to teachers staying in the profession than the amount of money that they make," said member Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina.

O'Laughlin said teachers were overwhelmed by the behavioral disruptions and "total dysfunction" at times in the classroom.

"I think if we don't address those things, it won't matter what we pay teachers, and I think the legislators are also going to kind of stiffen against that until we do address those things," O'Laughlin said.

Yet other members of the commission thought the plan to raise pay was a straightforward starting point.

"Just in terms of this recommendation, this feels like low-hanging fruit to me, and something that we have to do to be competitive with our region," said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, adding neighboring states may already be increasing their starting salaries.

Teacher Misty Grandel said salary and culture were important factors for retaining teachers.

"And $38,000? You're not going to get people to stay in the classroom any more for 38,000 than you do for 32,000, but it's a step, and teachers are going to appreciate that step," Grandel said.

"I was in a school visit last week ... and they're launching their youth registered apprenticeship program, where these students, high school students ... told me that they were being paid $17 an hour. So if we're paying our students more for their youth registered apprenticeships than we're able to pay our teachers, we have to be able to do this," Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said.

The committee's short-term recommendations were:

• Establishing a fund to support districts increasing teacher salaries

• Increasing support for teacher mental wellness, including the option to use days off for wellness reasons

• Offering student tuition assistance – scholarships to students that are contingent on teaching a certain number of years after obtaining their degrees

• Recommending that school districts explore the possibility of "team-teaching" through special permission waivers from the education department

The commission had initially planned for the last recommendation to be directed toward the legislature and to be categorized as a long-term priority, but after Pollitt reminded members of an "innovation waiver" law passed this year that would allow districts to seek exemptions to pursue innovative practices, the commission decided to move the recommendation up to short-term and make the recommendation to districts themselves.

The commission's long-term priorities were:

• Allowing salary supplements for high-need positions by discussing stakeholder support for a constitutional amendment that would allow stipends and bonuses for teachers

• Allowing salary supplements for teachers who gain National Board Certification

Grandel was nervous about the possible downsides of a move to offer more money to teachers in high-need positions.

She said it could be harmful to culture and climate if some teachers are paid more than others when all are "working equally hard."

The commission voted to approve the recommendations, which will be included in a document that will go before the State Board of Education in October. The commission will continue its work by offering town halls and meeting with school boards about their recommendations.

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