Over the past few years, KASB asked school leaders to name the greatest barriers to achieving improved educational results. Common responses include the challenges of student and family poverty, differences in school readiness, the need for more specialized services, emotional and mental health challenges and barriers to higher education. The most consistent answer, however, was a shortage of qualified teachers, both in numbers available and quality of applicants. Quite simply, programs will not work without the right people behind them.
The reasons for this shortage include a long, deep decline in students entering college programs for teaching, competition with other employers in a strong economy with low unemployment, concerns about public and political support, increasing expectations on teachers and schools; and difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in more isolated parts of the state.
One other factor can be easily measured: teacher pay has increased less than other professions and inflation. This is an issue local school districts have an opportunity to address.
Teaching has long paid less than other professions requiring a college degree, in part reflecting the fact that most teachers were, and are, women. A new report shows that while teacher weekly salaries at least increased at about the same rate as other college-educated professionals from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, since then teacher pay nationally has been essentially flat when adjusted for inflation, while average pay for other jobs requiring at least four years of college has increased about 15 percent more than inflation.
Teachers now trail comparably educated employees in other fields by nearly 20 percent in weekly pay. In Kansas the gap is slightly wider than the national average.
Not only has teacher pay lagged behind other professions; Kansas teacher salaries have also fallen behind the rest of the country. A new report from KASB shows that from 2008 to 2018, Kansas teacher salaries increased 11.7 percent. During the same period, the national average increased 14.1 percent. The top nine states in the country based on overall average rankings of 15 educational outcomes increased average teacher pay 24.1 percent. All groups of “peer states” identified by KASB based on characteristic similar to Kansas, including students, adult population and population distribution, increased teacher salaries by at least 17 percent over that period.
One major reason teacher pay has not kept up with other professions was the decline in state funding following the Great Recession, which resulted in reductions for state and local revenues and cut support for K-12 education. According to national data, total per pupil funding nationally did not recover to 2009 levels until 2016.
In Kansas the situation was even worse, with slower economic recovery and deeper revenue loss because of income tax cuts. From 2008 to 2017, total per pupil funding in Kansas increased just 10.5 percent, ranking 36th in the nation. The national average increased 17.8 percent, and the top performing states increased 28.3 percent.
In other words, Kansas was well below the national average in both teacher salary and per pupil funding growth, and the top states in educational outcomes exceed the U.S. average in both teacher salary and per pupil growth.
Kansas school districts now have the opportunity to reverse this trend. The Kansas Legislature began to raise funding in 2018 and 2019 and has adopted a plan to further increase state aid over the next four years. The goal is to restore general school funding to 2009 levels, after adjusting for inflation. It means Kansas school operating budgets should increase by about 4 percent per year over this period, while inflation is expected to increase about 2 percent per year.
As a result, most school districts will have resources to raise teacher pay to be more competitive with other professions and other states, make teaching a more attractive and better compensated job in Kansas, and attract and retain better qualified, higher skilled individuals to improve learning and student success. That has already begun to happen. Kansas teacher salaries had the largest two-year increase in a decade.
Of course, the teacher shortage is not the only issue schools need to address. Other top concerns identified by schools include expanding early childhood programs, increasing counselors, social workers, mental health services and school clinics; more support for at-risk programs; and programs to address graduation, college and career preparation. Each of these areas add to the cost of staff and in some cases facilities.
With action by the 2019 Legislature to further raise funding, school boards can address all these issues to improve student success – which was the focus of the Supreme Court’s Gannon decision and the Legislature’s response.