Commentary

Missouri teachers deserve better pay and sufficient support

According to Salary.com, while the average public school teacher in Missouri makes between $44,831 and $65,470, starting teacher pay is still grossly low, leading to 260 vacant teacher positions in the 2022-23 school year with nearly half the positions located in just 5 school districts, all of which are located in St. Louis or Kansas City (Getty Images).

Students all over the country, including children in Missouri, continue to suffer from learning loss, as well as inadequate academic and social support at school brought on by the pandemic.

Compounding this problem is the fact that although decades of research show teachers being the single most important school-based factor impacting student achievement, many of them are leaving the profession because they feel underpaid and undervalued. The stability of our students’ social and academic well-being is only as good as how we show up for the classroom cornerstones-teachers-who nurture them.

This moment calls us to support and advocate for educators by promptly addressing pay inequities that hinder their path of boosting student achievement and success.

Low teacher pay is a significant barrier to recruiting and retaining educators in the profession. At least a third of educators stop teaching because they do not feel adequately supported and compensated. In a recent survey by the Teacher Salary Project of more than 1,000 teachers—more than half of whom received formal recognition for their achievements in the classroom—just 1 in 5 teachers said their pay was high enough to keep them in the classroom for the medium to long term.

Between 2020 and 2022, approximately 300,000 educators left the profession which led to an estimated 3% drop in the national workforce. Missouri is a prime example of this challenge, as our state currently falls at the bottom percentile in teacher pay.

According to Salary.com, while the average public school teacher in Missouri makes between $44,831 and $65,470, starting teacher pay is still grossly low, leading to 260 vacant teacher positions in the 2022-23 school year with nearly half the positions located in just five school districts, all of which are located in St. Louis or Kansas City.

As college graduates enter the workforce, inadequate salaries among educators is a significant reason why young adults find the teaching profession financially unrealistic. Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that, after adjusting for inflation, teachers’ average weekly wages have been relatively flat since 1996 — almost 30 years.

Historically low pay, coupled with greater postsecondary student loan debt, have caused many young adults to overlook teaching jobs in search of more lucrative career fields.

Research shows salary increases can attract a broader and more qualified pool of candidates for teaching positions. At Teach For America (TFA), we believe teacher pay and professional development is not just an issue of fairness and respect; it is also a matter of equity and critical to ensuring that every student has access to quality education.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers who work in low-income communities, or in schools with high percentages of students of color, are often paid less and receive fewer opportunities for professional growth than their counterparts in more affluent areas, which reinforces systemic inequalities and contributes to the opportunity gap that exists in our  education system. Boosting teacher compensation will help attract and retain educators to support students’ academic recovery from the pandemic.

Several states, including Missouri, have already been working to increase  teacher salaries this year. The recent passage of  a temporary grant program by Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri lawmakers increases the minimum salary for some of Missouri’s lowest-paid teachers, raising the minimum salary from $25,000 to $38,000. However, since the grant is not a permanent change, school districts in Kansas City and St. Louis that took advantage of this grant are now forced to create backup plans to continue compensating teachers at this rate.

At TFA St. Louis and TFA Kansas City, investing in high-quality and diverse educators in their 1st to 5th year of teaching through professional development programs, career support services, and job placement remains a top priority. Working to lower financial barriers to the teaching profession, TFA provides stipends through various programs, in an effort to better compensate teachers for the time they dedicate to strengthening their craft and  increasing their retention in the classroom.

In St. Louis, TFA programs such as the Instructional Excellence Fellowship and STEM Professional Learning Community offer teachers an opportunity to build critical instructional skills and network with educators from other area schools, while receiving a retention stipend for returning to the classroom the following year.

By recruiting heavily from underserved schools and districts, TFA St. Louis is working towards reducing turnover rates in the highest need schools. TFA Kansas City provides first year teachers, or corps members, with $5,000 in financial assistance, with an additional $5,000 for those who received a Pell Grant or were Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.

TFA Kansas City is also investing in early career educators through the Accelerate program which offers structured development and support to beginning teachers and their mentors in alignment with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Beginning Teacher Assistance Program requirements. The two-year program, which launched in 2018, provides structured development and individualized support for educators in the region.

To further support teachers in the classroom, both TFA St. Louis and TFA Kansas City have recently launched the Ignite Fellowship, a high impact tutoring program that matches exceptional and diverse college students with K-5th grade students in schools across the state. The Ignite Fellowship offers direct academic intervention to students, provides classroom teachers with support they need   and exposes high performing college students to teaching, strengthening the pipeline to the profession.

On a state level, the changes to provide better financial support for educators is helpful, although short-lived. While the recent passage of SB19 and Teach For America’s ongoing efforts in St. Louis and Kansas City are moving teacher pay increases and retention in the right direction, there’s still room for more to be done. Additional lasting solutions include supporting legislation, like the American Teacher Act, would benefit all Missouri teachers and kids in both rural and urban areas and, if passed, the bill would help boost teachers’ salaries to $60,000 a year.

Regardless of the initiatives in question, one thing is absolutely clear: these challenging times in education prove that inaction is not an option. The fate of our children’s futures stands on our ability to pay our educators what they’re worth and help them deliver exemplary student learning outcomes.

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Elizabeth Bleier
Elizabeth Bleier

Elizabeth Bleier serves as the executive director of Teach For America St. Louis where she works to support a network of 600+ local educators and educational equity advocates to improve outcomes for students from historically underserved communities.

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Julie Gronquist-Blodgett
Julie Gronquist-Blodgett

Julie Gronquist-Blodgett has been a proud member of the Teach for America Kansas City family since 2010 and is the region’s executive director where she leads the support of nearly 500 corps members and alumni who are among the countless educators, families, and community leaders that have pushed to raise the bar for educational excellence.

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