BALLWIN, Mo. — Missouri’s education department is touring the state, asking community members and educators what can be done to help teacher recruitment and retention. 

For months, a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission has been researching what can be done to combat the teacher shortage, and pay is an urgent priority.

According to the report, roughly 8,000 Missouri teachers make less than $38,000 a year, according to a report released by the commission. On Tuesday night, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) along with members of the Missouri State Board of Education held a town hall at the Parkway Center Welcome Center in Ballwin. DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven and Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik read through the report, which was shocking to some. 

“I didn’t know a lot of this data, and it’s crazy, it’s mind-blowing, and it is sad to be an educator in the state of Missouri knowing that all of the states surrounding us are doing so much better,” said Darrion Crockwell, 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year and Lindbergh School District P.E. teacher. 

The State Board of Education created a commission to study the shortage of teachers and how to keep them in the state. The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission is made up of 22 members from the business community, lawmakers and educators who were appointed in the spring by the board. After four months of research, the commission has finished its work.

Last month, the Missouri State Board of Education accepted a handful of recommendations from the commission, which will soon be asking the General Assembly to make immediate changes to help educator recruitment and retention. 

“It truly is a crisis and I worry about 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road because if we see the numbers trend the way they are trending now, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” said Don Jeffries, curriculum director for the Grandview R-2 District. 

For the past month, DESE has been asking for feedback on the report, which is an expensive but necessary plan of attack. In a state that is suffering a teacher shortage crisis, forcing some schools to pivot to four-day weeks. Under state statute, the minimum starting salary for teachers in Missouri is $25,000, that’s about $9,000 below the state’s average living wage. 

“Missouri ranks last alongside Montana, with the lowest average starting teacher pay in the country,” Katnik told the room of nearly 50 people. “By the end of three years, nearly half of a group of new teachers have already left the profession. This means somewhere around 7,500 to 8,000 actual teaching positions have to filled in Missouri schools year.”

When Laura Margolf started her teaching career, she told the group she made $25,000. 

“That was in 1995, so it kind of surprises me it’s still at that level,” Margolf said. “We too have careers, we are career people, but we are treated like we are clocking in and out.”

Margolf said she has told her two teenage kids not to follow in her footsteps to become a teacher, so they don’t have to go through what she’s gone through.

In July, the governor approved nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to increase minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. Under the legislation, the state pays for 70% while the rest is on the district, which means schools have to opt into the program, but the funding from the state is only for one year.

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven previously said that heading into this year, roughly 65% of districts are participating. The commission’s recommendation is to keep it permanent. In total, the commission offered nine recommendations to the board, separated into three categories: immediate, short-term, and long-term. At least half addressed teacher pay.

Immediate priorities: 

  • Increasing starting teacher pay to $38,000 and have an annual review from the Joint Committee on Education to ensure teacher salaries remain competitive 
  • Fund the Career Ladder Program which rewards teachers for extracurricular activities
  • Establish sustainable funding for Grow Your Own programs, geared towards paraprofessionals, adults or high school students who want to become a teacher
  • Encourage districts to implement team-based teaching models 

Short-term priorities: 

  • Establish a fund to help local school districts pay for the increased minimum starting salary and to increase teacher pay overall
  • Increase support for educator mental health
  • Fully fund the scholarship program that offers tuition assistance to incoming teachers or to educators continuing their education 

Long-term priorities:

  • Offer salary supplements for filling high-need positions
  • Fund salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification 

The commission also recommends that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) expand the annual teacher recruitment and retention report to include salary data for each local school district, teacher turnover broken down by student achievement and by race, a comparison of Missouri’s starting and average salaries with surrounding states, and openings that have been posted over the past year and the number of applications each opening received. 

“At the same time, the people that are coming into our organization, they are leaving from your more rural school districts, so in a lot of regards it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Howard Fields, assistant superintendent for human resources at Kirkwood School District.

Missouri currently has the lowest starting teacher wage in the country with an average of $32,970. According to the National Education Association, the national average starting wage for educators is $41,163. The commission’s report compares teachers who make less than $35,000 to other wage earners like animal caretakers who make an average of $28,000 a year, bartenders who make around $29,000 and housekeepers who average $30,000. 

“It’s heartbreaking when I have colleagues who have said to their own children, I don’t want you to be a teacher it’s too much, I don’t want you to watch you go through what you’re going through right now,” said Moira McCracken, Parkway Middle School PNEA president. 

DESE estimates there are more than 3,000 positions in Missouri schools that have either been left vacant or filled by someone not qualified for this school year. The department said there’s also about 145 schools that have implemented four-day weeks due to a lack of teachers. 

Increasing the minimum starting teacher salary comes with a hefty price tag. According to the report, about 8,000 teachers make below $38,000. In order to increase their wages, it’s estimated to cost $29.5 million which does not address the salary schedule compression issues that might be included. 

The cost to expand the Career Ladder Program, which rewards teachers for extra work like extracurricular activities or tutoring is projected to cost $56.2 million. The state statute has also been modified to lower the years of service needed to participate in the program from five years to two which could increase the cost by $20,000. 

For now, the state does not have a cost for increasing mental health resources for educators. The commission recommends additional paid wellness days which would require more substitute teachers. 

Tuition assistance for roughly 100 educators would cost the state about $5.8 million, based on the average cost of tuition for higher education in Missouri for the 2020-2021 school year which was $14,564. 

“The actual implementation of that, the funding piece, that is kind of going to be on your plate,” Walker told the board when asked when these recommendations will go into place and be funded. “You all get to decide the timing, ultimately and what will work legislatively and which year.”

Back in June, the State Board of Education voted to expand testing scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. By tweaking the state’s qualifying score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce.

According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one to four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.

In April, the board approved to expand the test scores for elementary certification exams by a -2 standard error of measurement (SEM) after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators weren’t scoring high enough.

In June, the board agreed to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means someone that missing a handful of questions would be certified.

Teachers aren’t the only ones leaving the education field. During the 2022–2023 school year, the state faced one of the largest numbers of openings for superintendents in recent history. Of the state’s 518 school districts, 104 of them spent the summer searching for superintendents. More than 53% of those openings are due to retirements from the last school year.

According to the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA), 56 superintendents retired this past school year, that number is up from 43 in 2021, 41 in 2020, and 36 in 2019. Compared to years past, in 2019 there were 76 superintendent openings going into the school year. By 2020, when most districts finished the school year virtually, that number increased to 86 but decreased back down to 83 in 2021. 

Of the 104 superintendent openings, all have been filled, but some with interims. 

The Blue Ribbon Commission and the State Board of Education have two town halls left to talk about the report and get feedback from the community and school districts. All meetings start at 6 p.m.

  • Nixa Junior High – Nov. 16
  • Kay Porter Theatre, Poplar Bluff – Nov. 17 

Click here to see the commission’s full report.