KASB President’s Perspective: Hope for recovery in funding, teacher pay

By Shannon Kimball
KASB President
Lawrence USD 497

Greetings! It is my honor and privilege to serve as your Association president this year. I have been fortunate to learn from past president Patrick Woods’ leadership throughout this last year, as well as former past president Dayna Miller and incoming president-elect Lori Blake. I thank each of them for their dedicated service to KASB, and I know together our leadership team will work hard to ensure KASB successfully meets the needs of our members and continues to be the leading voice of public education in Kansas.

I am serving my eighth year on my local board of education, and as all of our members are so well aware, these years have seen almost continual upheaval over public school funding. With the actions in the past Legislative Session and the recent decision by the Kansas Supreme Court, we may all have the opportunity to vote—for many of us, for the first time ever in our board service—on a constitutionally funded budget for this upcoming school year. If that happens, the resolution of the school finance litigation will nevertheless leave our districts with major challenges.

Our members are well aware of these challenges, and one in particular stands out right now. When asked this past school year to identify the greatest barriers to increasing educational outcomes, you and other education leaders told us, very clearly: A shortage of qualified teachers.

Reasons given for this problem are varied and include a steep decline in students entering college programs for teaching (one study documented a 23 percent decline between 2007 and 2016)—a decline fueled by the belief that teaching has become an undesirable profession owing to a perceived lack of professional autonomy, years of cuts to school funding, and lack of public and political support.

These factors are influential, but not easily remedied without systemic changes in how our communities and our political leaders talk about public schools and how as a community we respect and support the teaching profession.

However, one factor can be readily measured: the relative decline in teacher pay, which is tied to our long-running funding problems, but which also is an issue school districts have an opportunity to tackle this year.

Teaching has long paid less than other professions requiring a college degree, but that gap has widened substantially in Kansas over the past decade.

Today, Kansas teachers now trail comparably educated employees in other fields by nearly 20 percent. When measured against our peer states and those states whose successes our state should look to emulate, Kansas is falling further behind.

Why has competitive teacher pay been such a challenge for Kansas school districts? In short, the precipitous decline in K-12 state funding following the Great Recession. While other states have since recommitted funding to K-12, Kansas has lagged behind with a slower-to-recover economy and deeper revenue losses 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), while the national average increased 17.8 percent, and the top performing states increased 28.3 percent. In other words, Kansas is well below the national average in both teacher salary and per pupil funding growth, while the top states in educational outcomes exceed the U.S. average in both categories.

Kansas school districts now have the opportunity to disrupt this pattern. The Kansas Legislature began to raise funding in 2018 and has adopted a plan to further increase state aid over the next four years. The goal of this plan is to restore general school funding to 2009 levels, after adjusting for inflation. As a result, school districts will, on average, have additional dollars to begin raising teacher pay to be more competitive with other professions and other states.

Addressing teacher compensation now will make teaching a more attractive and better compensated job in Kansas and will help our districts to attract and retain better qualified, higher skilled individuals to improve learning and student success.

I hope this moment is the true beginning of a recovery period for our schools. The funding increases anticipated this year and over the next four years cannot fully undo the damage of a decade of lost opportunities, but the increases will provide districts the chance for change in the right direction when it comes to teacher pay. I encourage board members to take advantage of that opportunity now as we strive to do the best work we can for our schools and our communities. I know I am starting out my year of service to our association feeling inspired and hopeful for our future.

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