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Missouri's budget only increases teacher salaries for one year. Educators say that's not enough

Student’s locker on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Student’s locker on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills.

The budget bill that includes grants to pay for teacher raises will only cover the next school year, are optional and require the districts to pay for part of the raise. And it does not change the state's current $25,000 minimum teacher salary, which hasn’t been updated since 2005.

A new grant program to raise minimum teacher salaries in Missouri is headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, but education leaders say it’s only a temporary solution.

The minimum salary for Missouri teachers is currently $25,000, but if the governor signs the budget bill that includes the raise, an optional grant program could increase starting salaries to $38,000 in public school districts that participate.

The program would fund 70% of the cost of the raise, with the remaining 30% paid for by the districts. But the grants are only for next year, and the legislature will have to decide whether it will appropriate the funding again for fiscal 2024.

This does not change the current $25,000 minimum teacher salary, which is written in state law and hasn’t been updated since 2005.

The grant could apply to a lot of Missouri teachers — more than 90% of school districts and charters in the state have at least one staff member who makes less than $38,000. It would potentially cover about 14% of educators statewide, according to an estimate from St. Louis University’s Policy Research in Missouri Education Center.

“That's a fairly large group of teachers,” said Cameron Anglum, an assistant professor of education policy and equity at SLU. “Having that low of a salary makes it really tough for school districts to hire new teachers and fill some of these gaps that they have in their staffing.”

Because the funding is not permanent, some school districts are not making long-term promises to teachers.

In the Warren County School District west of Wentzville, teacher pay is one of the district’s biggest challenges, said Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith. The district moved to a four-day week in recent years, mainly to try to address teacher retention. It also had to cancel its French class at the high school because it couldn’t find a teacher for next year.

A few levels of starting teachers make less than $38,000 in the district, so next year they’ll see a raise through the program, but it won’t be permanent.

“We believe this to be one-time money, and so we don't believe this is something that's going to be sustainable over the long term,” Klinginsmith said. “We are just going to maintain our current salary schedule, but pay additional, this year, one time, to the teachers that are below that.”

On average, Missouri’s new teachers are paid the second-lowest salaries in the nation, above only Montana's, according to a recent analysis from the National Education Association. Average pay for all teachers in Missouri is also in the bottom five of states.

The Missouri State Teachers Association is calling for sustainable investment in raising teacher salaries.

“Without increased investments by local and state stakeholders, we won’t see any movement upward from our last place standing for beginning teacher salaries,” said Bruce Moe, executive director of MSTA, in a statement. “In addition, we need to recognize and compensate our veteran educators.”

The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has also put together a commission to make recommendations on teacher recruitment and retention.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Kate Grumke reports on the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media. Email Kate at kgrumke@stlpr.org.
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