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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Low pay is the biggest reason that Missouri teachers are leaving the profession, according to a new survey.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently shared its findings from a survey of 6,000 teachers, principals and administrators with the State Board of Education, St. Louis Public Radio reported.

The board's president, Charlie Shields, said the data is powerful because every surveyed group cited salary as the number one issue when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.

The survey found pay was followed by a lack of leadership and support as reasons that lead to teachers quitting.

Missouri's average salary for teachers is $48,293, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

The minimum salary the state can pay teachers is $25,000, but only a few teachers in rural distracts earn that amount.

Pay is typically decided by each district, often after negotiations with a teachers' union. Districts with high property tax bases can pay their teachers more since they're less reliant on the state as a major source for school funding.

The Missouri State Teachers Association said most teachers start out making $30,000-$40,000 a year. Teacher salaries increase based on their education level and years of classroom experience.

School board member Peter Herschend called the strategy "awful" because it doesn't take into account the quality of a teacher.

Board members considered issues with teacher pay earlier this year and found improving teacher retention is more nuanced than raising salaries.

"The theme that I seem to hear in there was, 'I don't want to be rich, but what's being asked of me doesn't equal how I'm being valued,'" said Paul Katnik, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's assistant commissioner. "And pay is just a piece of that, but there's a real erosion of respect."

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