A month after proposing to boost teachers' salaries, Missouri education officials are outlining strategies to help with another area they say is in need of attention: the recruitment and retention of teachers.
The new plan, which was detailed last week to the State Board of Education, offers 26 strategies and 90 specific steps over the next two years to make it easier to recruit and retain quality teachers in Missouri, said Paul Katnik, an assistant commissioner with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Katnik said current trends in the teacher workforce in Missouri are "concerning." Fewer people are studying to become teachers, and teachers already in the workforce are leaving the profession, he said.
"That's a bad recipe for trying to fill classrooms with teachers," he said.
Teacher shortages have long existed in hard-to-fill subjects such as science, math and special education, but this year, some Missouri districts had trouble even finding elementary teachers for classrooms, said Ann Jarrett, director of teaching and learning for the Missouri National Education Association.
Teacher preparation in Missouri
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"It is a crisis," she added.
Jarrett, a former science teacher, said multiple factors are contributing to a shortage in teachers.
Pay is a significant one, she said. Adjusted for inflation, teachers in general make less than they did a decade ago.
Another factor is the increasing demands of the job, Jarrett said. Some teachers report not feeling supported by their administrators, and the challenges of teaching today's youth — who are increasingly affected by trauma and poverty — are growing, she said.
In addition, professional development opportunities for teachers have been reduced or aren't fully funded in many districts, she said.
To help address what many believe is the biggest issue in education right now — teacher pay — the Missouri education department last month outlined a nearly $400 million proposal that would boost educators' salaries.
Missouri currently ranks 40th in teacher compensation, with the average salary of $48,000, according to data from the National Education Association. The new proposal could lift Missouri up to 26th with an average salary of about $54,000.
The three-part plan calls for increasing the base pay for teachers from $25,000 to $32,000, offering teachers a $4,000 raise and creating a fund to lure teachers to take on hard-to-fill positions. The fund would allocate $75 million to recruit teachers to work in high-poverty or rural schools or teaching subjects such as high school science or English as a second language classes for immigrants.
Katnik said last week that "it's a big thing to propose" and that the education department doesn't want the financial burden of its implementation to fall to school districts. Instead, state lawmakers, if they approve of the plan, would have to find a way to reallocate state funding or create a way to generate new revenue, he said.
During his State of the State address on Wednesday, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said he wants to "start discussing ways" to improve teacher pay.
"However, the solution cannot just be asking the state to write a bigger check," he said during his address. "We're going to ask school districts, school boards and DESE to propose a better plan, a bold plan, for our educators."
State Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, chairman of the House Budget Committee, could not be reached for comment last week. He has previously told the Globe that his funding priorities each year when helping to craft the state's $30 billion budget are public safety, infrastructure and K-12 education.
Lawmakers were back in session last week.
The other major issue the Missouri education department is working to tackle is that of recruiting and retaining teachers. In a presentation to the State Board of Education last week, Katnik outlined six strategies for the state to adopt:
• Develop and implement a public relations plan to increase recruitment.
Katnik said this could include asking public school counselors to promote teaching as a profession to high school students and asking districts' Teacher of the Year finalists to visit with state lawmakers about educational issues.
• Expand grow-your-own campaigns.
This could involve state partnerships with organizations that promote teaching as a profession and providing incentives or grants to districts with programs that develop future teachers, Katnik said.
• Provide incentives and reduce barriers for those entering the teaching profession.
This strategy could extend scholarship opportunities for college education students, revise the criteria for teacher certification and explore options for loan forgiveness, Katnik said.
• Expand leadership and professional learning opportunities.
This could expand programs for principals and emphasize mentoring of new teachers, Katnik said.
• Implement new school and district accountability measures.
Katnik said this strategy could include the evaluation of student testing and the revision of accrediting and testing systems.
• Improve culture and climate in schools.
This could mean conducting a statewide climate and culture survey for teachers, filling positions dedicated to mental health professionals and developing guidelines for individual and collaborative planning time, Katnik said.
Among the strategies that the Missouri NEA supports is the professional development opportunities for principals, which would help teachers feel more supported in the classroom, and extending professional development opportunities for teachers themselves, Jarrett said.
"I don't think any one of (the strategies) is sufficient," she said. "I think it will take multiple efforts on the state and local levels."
Top leaders at local school districts say they're already doing what they can to recruit and retain teachers.
To attract and keep teachers in the Joplin School District, administrators have introduced quarterly forums in which teachers offer input on Joplin's strategic plan and other issues, Superintendent Melinda Moss said. Surveys on district climate and culture, launched several years ago, also are conducted regularly to gauge teacher satisfaction, she said.
"What we've tried to do is address issues of climate and culture and teacher voice, honoring our teachers as the professionals and experts in the classroom that they are and making sure they have a voice in decisions that are made," she said.
The school district also works with its employee bargaining groups to improve compensation and benefit packages, Moss said, and to try to make salaries more competitive with those of surrounding districts.
Despite the efforts, retention has remained fairly flat over the past few years for Joplin. According to data provided by the superintendent, employee "separations" from the district numbered 79 in 2015, 93 in 2016, 75 in 2017 and 81 in 2018. "Separations" include all reasons that employees leave the district, such as retirement, leaving for another school district or quitting the profession altogether.
The Carthage School District, where a growing number of students are Hispanic, often seeks to recruit teachers in another hard-to-fill subject — English as a second language. The district contacts universities as far away as Texas to find candidates and offers stipends to staff members who can speak and write in Spanish, Superintendent Mark Baker said.
"Teacher recruitment and retention are extremely challenging," he said. "We lose staff every year to the business world due to salaries businesses can offer compared to what we offer."
Like Joplin, the Carthage district is focused on its climate and culture, hoping to foster a positive and supportive environment in which teachers can thrive and be successful, Baker said.
"This type of environment goes a long way (toward) recruiting and retaining staff," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.