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A state survey found higher pay and wellness days could help stop Missouri teachers from quitting

A woman sitting on a stool, left, gestures toward a classroom while a young girl stands beside her holding up a pair of Crayons taped to pieces of cardboard.
File Photo-Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
More than 15,000 teachers in Missouri responded to a survey aimed at coming up with ways to better recruit and retain teachers.

Charlie Shields, the state board of education’s president, said Missouri is at a "point of crisis" as a state commission tries to come up with solutions for its chronic teacher shortage.

Teachers say higher pay, more wellness days and student loan reimbursement could keep and bring more people into the profession, according to a survey by Missouri’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission.

The commission, created by the state board of education, is tasked with finding solutions to the chronic teacher shortage. This month, the commission launched the statewide survey and held a hearing for teachers to share their thoughts.

Charlie Shields, the board’s president, said at Monday’s survey presentation that the key to these solutions is making the legislature understand why they need to happen.

“We are at the point of crisis. And if we miss this opportunity, it's not just about losing x-thousand teachers in the next five years. It's about losing a generation of students in the next few years,” Shields said.

More than 15,000 teachers responded to the survey, representing about 22% of all teachers in the state. Over 900 principals responded, about 41% of the state’s principals and about 350 superintendents responded, or nearly half the superintendents in the state.

Participants were asked what priority they would give different components of teacher compensation. Increased base pay was considered an essential or high priority for 83% of teachers. Healthcare benefits were selected by 62% of teachers and non-traditional benefits by 56%.

The opportunity to earn additional compensation for indicators of quality, such as certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, ranked at the bottom, with only 34% of teachers considering it an essential or high priority.

Wellness days and student-loan reimbursement topped non-traditional benefits that teachers would use if available, with about 72% and 58% of teachers selecting the options, respectively. Student loan reimbursement and a childcare stipend topped the list of benefits that principals and superintendents thought teachers would use.

Respondents were also asked for ways to professionalize teaching in an effort to elevate teachers as professionals and experts in their field. Increased flexibility during school hours and increased support for teacher mental health were selected by about 77% and 71% of teachers, respectively.

Differentiated pay ranked at the bottom for teachers, with only 19% of teachers selecting the option.

The survey also asked for thoughts on strategies to increase teacher diversity and recruitment, including student loans forgiveness, reducing the cost of becoming a teacher and expanding “Grow Your Own” programs.

It also asked what solutions, if implemented, would cause them to leave their position. Using teacher evaluations data to inform salary increases and differentiated pay ranked the highest, with 61% and 49% of teachers, respectively, saying the change would make them want to leave their position.

The survey results will help inform the recommendations the commission will make to the state board of education.

Missouri House Rep. Ingrid Burnett, a member of the commission, said based on her 30 years of experience in education, it’s important that the state board follows through on whatever recommendations are accepted.

“We will lose more teachers than we are now if we don't demonstrate that we were serious about this and that we intend to stand by the recommendations that we made," Burnett said.

The commission's final report will be reviewed at the September meeting before it is presented to the state board in October.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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