The year 2005 was the last time Missouri’s minimum teacher salary requirement was increased.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education building (Photo courtesy of Alisa Nelson)

What has happened in the past 16 years? Missouri Education Commissioner, Dr. Margie Vandeven, says the state has fallen significantly behind its eight bordering states in teacher pay. She says Missouri’s teachers are leaving the field at a greater rate than the state has ever seen before.

The Missouri Board of Education’s top priority in the upcoming legislative session is to advocate for a change in state law that would require the minimum salary to increase to $35,000 annually. The state’s current base salary requirement for educators is $25,000.

During this week’s board meeting, member Don Claycomb, of central Missouri’s Linn, explains why the board arrived at that dollar figure.

“If you take those eight bordering states, the range in minimum teacher salary for the eight bordering states ranges from a low of $29,804, which is Kentucky, to $38,000, which is Tennessee,” he says.

Member Mary Schrag, of southeast Missouri’s West Plains, says more than 4,000 teachers would be impacted by the increase.

“We have not given teachers a raise since 2005. I mean that’s 16 years,” she says. “I can’t imagine another industry where we don’t have those pay increases and you know with health care, some of the pay increases right now that certain health care professionals are seeing are unprecedented. When we drive by McDonald’s, we see a lot of advertising for %15 to $17 an hour. When you put that into a salary context, you’re looking at between $32,000 and 35,000 a year. As we are looking at our teachers as professionals and having four year of education, the salary base of $35,000 we felt was a minimum start place.”

Board member, Peter Herschend, of southwest Missouri’s Branson, says $35,000 is not aggressive enough.

“That’s what I’m pushing for because I think it can start to make a greater impact than just the, what did you say, 5,000 teachers, who would be affected by it. Five-thousand is under 10% of the teaching cadre in this state,” says Herschend.

The board’s newest member, Kerry Casey, of the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, agreed with Herschend.

“We wouldn’t be doing enough to even really close the gap. I think we just continue to fall behind. I think this is a very important issue and it leads right to the heart of teacher attrition teacher satisfaction quality of education to our kids and I think it would be well worth the investment,” she says.

Board member, Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, of the St. Louis area of Pasadena Hills, says the board should go big or go home.

“Catching up is not enough because we’re really far behind,” she says. “I feel like we need to do something bold because as soon as we make the change, it’s dated and antiquated and we’re behind again.”

Schrag and Board President Charlie Shields, of northwest Missouri’s St. Joseph, says the dollar figure is a minimum starting point. Local districts can choose to pay their teachers at a higher minimum rate.

The board also wants to launch a commission that would recommend ways to boost teacher recruitment and retention. The commission would include state lawmakers.

The Missouri legislative session begins January 5 in Jefferson City.

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