Missouri’s economic future hinges on getting teachers right

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The quality of our children's education is one of the most important factors influencing their success in life.

The quality of our children’s education is one of the most important factors influencing their success in life.

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Teachers in our state change lives every day, and research shows that their work and influence is the #1 factor at the school level in determining a student’s success. But today, however, we are facing a labor shortage crisis unlike any our schools have experienced or I have seen in the 10 years I served on the Missouri State Board. of Education or in my 20 years as a member of the General Assembly.

You’ve probably heard about any number of topics related to education at the Capitol, the news, or even at your family’s dinner table. But I doubt this issue – teacher recruitment and retention – is one. And yet, it’s the most pressing problem facing schools across the state — and we all need to come together to solve it.

The State Board of Education formed a Blue Ribbon Commission for Teacher Recruitment and Retention to address these challenges. The Blue Ribbon Commission brings together influential business leaders from across the state to study this important issue, because high-quality teachers are essential to ensuring our students become the next generation of Missouri’s workforce. It is refreshing to see our business and industry partners realize that their future employees will be directly impacted by this work, making these leaders eager to collaborate and problem solve on behalf of Missouri public education.

Schools struggle with both recruitment and retention. First, there are not enough people studying to become teachers. In fact, the number of students enrolled in educator preparation programs across the state has dropped nearly 30% over the past decade. At the same time, too many current teachers are leaving the profession. By their fifth year of teaching, more than half of new teachers leave their education career. It’s a relatively simple supply and demand issue: the demand is high and there isn’t enough supply to fill that void. But as simple as the problem is to understand, the solution is much more complex.

Teacher pay is one of the obvious reasons why we can’t attract more people into the profession, and also why so many people choose to leave their careers. Missouri trails the nation in average starting teacher salary at $32,970, and near the bottom of all states nationwide for average teacher salary at $50,817according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Missouri has nearly 70,000 teachers, and just over 4,000 of them currently earn salaries between $25,000 and $35,000. As a state, we need to address this long-standing problem and find practical and sustainable solutions to pay these public servants the salary they deserve – and we need to do it now.

Understaffed schools can’t close like restaurants

But the solution to the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers is not limited to the monetary value we place on this profession. It’s also about another kind of value: it’s about the respect that Missouri families show for their children’s teachers, and it’s about the support that our educational institutions and communities have in their together provide teachers as they fulfill this call which is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly taxing.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will present its recommendations to the National Board of Education in October. We have asked its members to act quickly because we have no time to lose. Unlike restaurants and stores that close when they don’t have enough staff to operate and serve their customers, our public schools must keep their doors open to continue serving Missouri students. But ongoing labor shortages mean that schools are forced to hire long-term substitute teachers to teach students or, in some cases, hire teachers who are not qualified to teach this material and this content – ​​or simply to leave the post vacant. Missouri students deserve better.

This is exactly why everyone in Missouri should care about this problem and do what they can to help solve it. Because without qualified and effective teachers in every classroom in our state, our students will not be prepared to succeed in school and in life, and in turn, our state will suffer. Public education, workforce, and economic development go hand in hand, and we must come together as a state to solve this problem. Supporting our students means supporting their teachers.

Charlie Shields is chairman of the Missouri State Board of Education and president and CEO of University Health in Kansas City.

This story was originally published April 29, 2022 5:00 a.m.

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