Missouri lawmakers are again looking at how to raise the state's 'disastrously low' teacher pay
Missouri's average teacher salaries are among the worst in the U.S. Last year, a temporary solution raised pay for some teachers. This year, educators are asking for a permanent increase.
Once again, teacher pay is a top priority in Missouri’s legislature. Both Democrats and Republicans have talked about the need to increase pay in the first week of the new session.
Newly elected House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said the pay scale needs work.
“We're going to see a lot of different proposals brought forward,” Plocher said. “How those take effect and how those should take shape will be developed over a period of time.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Missouri teachers' pay is “disastrously low” but added Democrats want to see what Plocher’s plan will be.
“We're going to be working with everything we have to make sure that our teachers are paid what they deserve and that we're not coming up with weird games to try to move money around or figure out how we're going to pay them,” Quade said.
Missouri’s starting teacher pay is 50th in the nation, higher only than Montana's, according to the National Education Association, a teachers union. Missouri hasn’t changed its minimum teacher salary since 2005.
Last legislative session, Missouri lawmakers created a grant program to fund increases for Missouri’s lowest-paid teachers, effectively raising the minimum salary from $25,000 to $38,000. But that grant was not a permanent change, and school districts that took advantage of it are already making backup plans for teachers who may not see that money again next year.
The Warren County school district between St. Louis and Columbia is one district that participated in the grant to raise teacher pay to $38,000.
“There are districts in the St. Louis area that are paying a lot more,” said Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith. “So it did help us a little bit, but we're still not to the level of where other districts are.”
Thirty teachers in Warren County were making less than $38,000 before the change. Those teachers got the raise this school year, but if the legislature doesn’t fund it again, they’ll go back to their lower salary next year.
Klinginsmith said to try to make that less burdensome for teachers, the district paid the grant out as a lump sum and kept monthly payments where they would be for the usual salary.
“If it goes back, that lump sum payment just wouldn't be there,” Klinginsmith said. “And that'd be unfortunate and that is obviously not what we want to do, but hopefully from a budgeting, month-to-month standpoint, they will be prepared for that.”
Warren County is also going to extremes to try to retain and recruit teachers. The district is the largest in the state on a four-day week and adopted the schedule in the 2019-20 school year to try to retain its teachers. Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith said so far, teacher turnover has gone down, but he said the district is still having trouble hiring.
One in four Missouri school districts also have a four-day schedule, which experts say is a symptom of the teacher shortage in the state.
Sarah Kellogg contributed to this report.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.