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Teacher pay, school funding identified as top concerns

by Anna Campbell | August 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Teacher salaries and school funding may again be a prime concern during the spring legislative session, draft recommendations from Missouri's Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Recruitment and Retention suggest.

The commission met Monday to discuss feedback collected from educators in a survey and public hearing during the first week of August.

The statewide survey, advertised through social media, school conferences, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education communications, and professional education organizations, brought in about 15,000 teacher responses (21.5 percent), 916 principal responses (41 percent) and 357 superintendent responses (nearly 50 percent).

"I was just surprised, given the struggle that they have right now, that more teachers were not more vocal in responding to the survey," said Ruth Stricklen Pullins, a business leader on the commission, referencing the 15,000 responses.

Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, reminded the commission the survey went out at a time when teachers may have been on vacation or at home with their families.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Katnik said the groups were relatively representative as the responses were evenly distributed by grade level and school size.

Teachers and superintendents answering the survey prioritized base salary increases as a part of compensation, followed by health care benefits.

Yet principals thought non-traditional benefits such as flexible scheduling, housing stipends or student loan forgiveness took top priority.

All three, however, put indicators of quality in last place for consideration in compensation.

Teachers and administrators alike seemed to balk at differentiated or merit pay solutions.

All three groups also said increased flexibility, such as more planning or collaboration time during the day, would go a long way toward elevating the teaching profession. Yet differentiated pay ranked in the bottom for all three.

Some members of the commission were surprised by the feedback.

"I just don't see how you can look for increases and look for more without accountability, and differentiated pay to me is all about accountability... I'm shocked," said business leader Kurt Hellweg.

The majority of educators support or are neutral on the proposition of a state salary schedule. Yet only 20-30 percent of educators were supportive of financial incentives for teachers based on student success, while around 40 percent opposed them.

"I think this is pretty scary for teachers as a whole because I think that some of it is the equity, and if you have a rough class, then is that going to be held against you if it's individual?" said Misty Grandel, a teacher on the commission, adding the commission has largely talked about such metrics being on a schoolwide basis, rather than an individual basis.

As for recruitment, some teachers were at a loss.

When asked what strategies could be used to recruit new teachers, including expanding Grow Your Own programs, communicating with businesses and communicating the love of teaching, and bringing people into schools to observe, 17 percent of teachers answered "none of the above" and 10 percent answered they didn't know.

The commission considered several draft recommendations which will be adjusted and finalized at a later meeting.

The recommendations included:

• Increasing starting teacher salary by statute to $38,000

• Establishing a fund to support district base pay and competitive pay

• Providing salary supplements for teachers who obtain national board certification

• Amending the articles of the Missouri Constitution and the Teacher Tenure Act that prevent awarding supplements and bonuses to teachers

• Increasing health care benefits for educators, providing mental health service in health care plans, and funding two wellness days per teacher per year

• Providing funding for student loan forgiveness and funding the Urban Flight and Rural Needs Scholarship Program

• Annually funding the career ladder program

• Funding Grow Your Own programs

• Expanding accountability mechanisms with regard to teacher workforce data

• Expanding the Teach Missouri campaign, a recruitment initiative

Among the suggested changes were adding flexibility per teacher request (such as plan time), implementing increases throughout the salary schedule and not just at the bottom, using an annual survey for teachers and schools, prioritizing recommendations for this year and considering the total cost, increasing behavioral support on campus, and bringing back retirees to help in the short-term.

The next meeting will be 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Governor Office Building, Room 450.

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