Although Kansas school leaders have expressed deep concerns about their ability to attract and retain quality teachers and other staff, a new report says Kansas has many features that should make it attractive to teachers. It remains to be seen if those factors will make a difference.
The financial advice website WalletHub regularly ranks states on various factors, including school system quality. A new report on the Best and Worse States for Teachers ranked Kansas 13th overall. That puts Kansas ahead of neighboring states such as Iowa (18th), Nebraska (26th), Missouri (39th), Colorado (40th) and Oklahoma (45th). In the Plains region, only North Dakota (1st) and Minnesota (7th) ranked higher.
How did WalletHub come up with this ranking, and what might it mean for Kansas?
The report based its overall ranking on “Opportunity and Competition” factors for 70 of 100 points and “Academic and Work Environment” factors for 30 points. Kansas ranks 18th on each measure but had a combined rank of 13th because many other states had much more variation between the two areas. Iowa, for example ranked ahead of Kansas in Opportunity and Competition (12th compared to Kansas at 18th), but much lower in Academic and Work Environment (27th compared to Kansas at 18th).
Opportunity and Competition (70 percent)
These factors include average teacher starting salary, average overall salary, income growth potential, and ten-year change in teacher salaries (2009-10 to 2018-19). Although Kansas teacher salaries have long ranked in the bottom third or lower among the states, the WalletHub ranking adjusts state salaries for state cost living differences. The report doesn’t say how the adjustment is made, but the Bureau of Economic Analysis uses a method called Regional Price Parity. The BEA calculates that Kansas cost of living is 90 percent of the national average, which means teacher salaries in Kansas have more purchasing power compared to states with higher living costs. That could make Kansas teacher positions more attractive – if potential employees understand and evaluate regional cost differences.
Another financial factor is average teacher pension, adjusted for cost differences, and share of new teachers with inadequate pensions (teachers whose future pension benefits will be less than the contribution they make to the state retirement plan during their career). Although the school group in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System has been significantly underfunded over the past decade, funding levels have been improving and benefit levels are guaranteed. While new school district employees receive less generous benefits than previous employees, they will still receive a guaranteed level of return.
Also included in this section is projected teacher competition (teachers per 1,000 students by 2026) and public school enrollment growth from 2016 to 2017; however, the reports doesn’t explain how these factors are used to calculate a ranking.
This section also ranks states using “length of time before tenure kicks in” and “teacher tenure protections.” Kansas repealed the state teacher due process law in 2014, although some districts have negotiated local due process procedures. Finally, this section looks at the share of uncertified teachers. According to the Learning Policy Institute, Kansas ranks among states with the lowest percentage of uncertified teachers.
Academic and Work Environment (30 percent)
This section puts the heaviest weight on WalletHub’s own Quality of School Systems ranking, where Kansas ranked 20th. Other factors include pupil teacher ratio, an area where Kansas ranks among the lowest in the country, and public school spending per pupil, where Kansas most recently ranked 30th in 2017.
This section also includes whether or not the state requires annual teacher evaluations (Kansas requires teacher evaluations each semester during the first year, each year during the second and third years, and once every three years during the fourth year and after) and presence of a teacher effectiveness requirement (state law also makes this a factor). Another factor is percent of teachers who say they are “planning to leave the teaching profession as soon as possible or as soon as a more desirable job opportunity arises,” where Kansas at 7.5 percent is slightly higher than the U.S. average of 7.3 percent.
The report also gives weight to teacher union strength (Kansas ranked 32nd in a fairly dated 2012 analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation), teacher safety defined as the percentage of teachers who reported being threatened with injury by a student in the past year (7.2 percent in Kansas compared to 10.0 percent nationally, but also fairly old 2012 data), and share of teachers who feel supported by their administration (55 percent in Kansas compared to 50 percent nationally).
Finally, the WalletHub ranking gives “half weight” to three other factors: average commute time, prevalence of childhood disadvantage (Kansas ranked 35th on another WalletHub report – the higher the ranking, the lower prevalence of disadvantage), and finally working mom -friendliness (Kansas ranked 15 in yet another WalletHub report).