The Missouri State Board of Education is planned to hear recommendations in January on teacher recruitment and retention, including that teachers' minimum salaries be raised.
The cost of doing that and of getting all Missouri public teachers to make at least the minimum proposed salary of $32,000 may cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but while admittedly not an easy proposition, proponents said it would be worth it.
"I think we're quickly approaching the point where we can't not do something. If we believe in education and our children, this is a step we need to take. We're not trying to make millionaires out of teachers, but we are trying to make sure they can at least have a standard of living," Paul Katnik said.
Katnik is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's assistant commissioner in the Office of Educator Quality.
He said a group of Missouri teachers and education stakeholders put together this fall and known as the Missouri Teacher Table reviewed data collected by DESE this year to formulate some recommendations on teacher recruitment and retention for the State Board of Education.
Those recommendations, to be presented at the board's Jan. 9 meeting, include making Missouri teachers' salaries more competitive with that of neighboring states.
The preferred option by the Teacher Table would be to give all of Missouri's more than 70,400 teachers a $4,000 raise, then increase the state's minimum teacher salary from $25,000 to $32,000, and then give a few hundred teachers raises as needed to have those teachers be paid the minimum salary — which they wouldn't otherwise be making even after the $4,000 raise.
That option is projected to cost more than $332.8 million, and would have the state's average teacher salary ranking at 26th in the nation.
Katnik said the Teacher Table came to $32,000 as the suggested minimum salary "because it catches us up to the border states. It's not hard to live in Missouri and cross the border and teach in a school, and we don't need that to happen. We need our excellent teachers to stay here. (The proposed $32,000 minimum salary) was to get us back competitive with our border states."
Missouri's minimum teacher salary of $25,000 has been in place since 2005.
According to a presentation from Katnik to the State Board of Education earlier this month, Missouri's minimum is below Kentucky, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Oklahoma's minimum teacher salary requirements. Missouri's neighbors have adjusted their minimum salary requirements in the past year or two, and Illinois plans to give further increases in the next few years.
Two other options from the Missouri Teacher Table would keep the increase to the minimum salary from $25,000 to $32,000 but give lesser initial raises of $3,000 or $2,000 to all teachers.
The $2,000 option is estimated to cost more than $162.6 million, and the $3,000 option might cost more than $242.5 million. The cheaper plan would have Missouri's average teacher salary rank 32nd in the nation — and 28th for the $3,000 option.
The total estimated costs include salary and benefits.
A DESE report from September included still lesser raises; those possible options would cost between $50 million and $145 million.
The current average teacher salary in the state is almost $48,300. The preferred option, with a $4,000 initial raise, would boost the average salary to $54,126 — a 9.7 percent increase — and the less expensive options would boost the average salary to $53,142 or $52,160.
The national average teacher salary is $60,477, according to the National Education Association teachers' union in April— with the national average teacher starting salary being $39,249.
NEA's report listed a slightly higher average salary for Missouri — $49,304, which ranked 43rd in the nation — with an average starting salary of $32,226 that ranked 49th in the nation, only above Oklahoma.
Katnik said he knows people may look at the amounts and question the feasibility of the proposals. He said while he's not an expert in state finances, "I'm just a person who says 'the kids of our state deserve the best we can do for them.'"
"I think the group recognized that this is a tough ask, that we've allowed ourselves to fall behind and trying to catch up is difficult work," he added — hence the less expensive options. "I think the teachers of our state deserve to look around them and see all of us doing what we can to take care of them and thanks for what they do for our kids."
A report from Katnik in January had conclusions that the number of candidates for teaching jobs in the state has dropped, and two-thirds of teachers who are new to the job drop out within the first five years of their careers.
A survey Katnik presented to the State Board of Education in May found among more than 5,700 teachers and more than 400 superintendents and principals, the biggest reason teachers leave or consider leaving the profession was pay.
Among teachers who had not considered leaving the profession, the biggest reason for wanting to stay was their students.
Any of the Missouri Teacher Table's recommended options to increase pay would also be paired with a $75 million "Innovation and Equity Fund" to be used to incentivize teachers to fill hard-to-staff subject areas or specialties where there are shortages — such as special education, math, science, foreign languages and English as a Second Language — and at rural schools, schools with high poverty rates and/or schools with high percentages of students in minority groups.
The Missouri Teacher Table itself is composed of 18 teachers from across the state — all of whom are teachers of the year — and 17 other representatives of groups including teachers unions, professional education associations such as the Missouri School Boards' Association, and the state PTA.
The Jefferson City School District's human resources director Shelby Scarbrough is also serving on the group.