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Why Missouri educators are leaving the profession and what’s being done to stop it


Editor's note: this article has been updated to accurately reflect new hires and district sizes.

More than 60% of Missouri teachers leave the profession in their first five years on the job, education officials say.

What is causing so many to flee from education careers? What is the state doing to remedy the situation? And what can school districts do better?

Educators say the brain drain from education has consequences for students. Children learning under the best teachers are more likely to graduate college and earn more over a lifetime, according to a Missouri study on teacher retention published in December.

The Missouri State Teachers Association noticed a stark increase in teachers leaving the profession in the past couple of years. In many cases, teachers leave without even caring about the consequences, said Todd Fuller with MSTA, such as a revoked teaching certification.

“The teachers that we're working with said, 'I don't care because I don't ever plan on teaching again,'" Fuller said. "It's that concerning. I mean, they're willing to leave the profession that early and they're not worried about the ramifications.”

Fuller chalks a lot of the exodus up to higher levels of stress, more expectations and pay not keeping up with the demanding work.

“It's a level of stress that they have not experienced ever before," Fuller said. "I know teachers that have been teaching 19 years, and this last year and the year before became breaking points for them in terms of dealing with issues that they've never had to deal with before."

How do Mid-Missouri school districts measure up?

ABC 17 compiled the number of open positions for 27 Mid-Missouri school districts and divided it into certified and non-certified positions. The certified positions include teachers, learning specialists, paraprofessionals, administration and counselors. Non-certified positions include positions like bus drivers and custodians.

Blair Oaks03+
Camdenton School District00
Centralia R-VI00
Cole County R-V00
Columbia Public Schools25.527
Eldon School District00
Gasconade County R-10.50
Gasconade County R-202+
Hallsville School District213
Iberia R-V School District00
Jefferson City Schools00
Mexico K-1254
Moberly School District12
Moniteau County R-100
Morgan County R-200
New Bloomfield R-III02+
New Franklin K-1200
Osage County R-3 Fatima02+
Osage County R-I30
Pettis County R-V11
School of the Osage00
Southern Boone School District23+
Tipton K-1200
Waynesville R-VI41

Columbia Public Schools, the larges school district in Mid-Missouri with around 3,000 employees, recently filled all 1,500 teaching positions, making six hires in the past few weeks.

Tipton R-VI School District is one of the smaller school districts in Mid-Missouri with only a couple hundred employees. Tipton Superintendent Terry Robinson said all the positions were filled, but not with traditionally certified educators.

“We have about 11 or 12 people right now who are temporarily certified," Robinson said.

Robinson said school districts, especially smaller ones, are having to get creative with hiring because of the difficulty finding qualified and willing employees.

“I remember a time when I can remember posting a social studies job a little over 10 years ago and having 50 applicants for that job," Robinson said. "I might be lucky to have three these days."

Tipton students start classes on Wednesday and will have some teachers who are still completing their own educations or other teachers who retired from different professions.

“I think the solutions that we're relying on is we are finding recently retired individuals from other professions," Robinson said. "We're also finding people who have an inclination toward teaching or think, 'I always wanted to be a teacher.'”

Robinson said he does what he can to fill positions, but bringing in new educators all the time prevents students from building lasting relationships with their teachers.

“The kids don't always have a choice of where they live," Robinson said. "They need a high-quality education and everyone's not going to live in Jefferson City or Columbia or Sedalia ... or Springfield or anything like that. They're going to live where they live and we should be meeting their needs.”

Is the job worth the price?

“Great teachers are not cheap" Robinson said.

One thing MTSA, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Robinson agree on is that people leave the teaching profession because of the pay.

The Missouri legislature for the second straight year has renewed funding for grants to school districts to bring up their starting teacher salaries to $38,000. Larger districts already pay above that level.

Robinson calls it a "temporary fix. It's a Band-Aid."

Robinson said pay makes it difficult for smaller school districts to compete with the big districts. The starting salary in Tipton is the base $38,000, but at Columbia Public Schools it starts at $40,900.

"Each year teachers and others move up on the salary schedule based on another year of experience and they also move if they achieve additional levels of education," said CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark.

Missouri still sits at the bottom nationwide when it comes to teacher salaries. This prompted Gov. Mike Parson to make raising starting teacher pay a priority in 2022. The state-matched grant was passed, and over 6,300 teachers across 350 school districts use the grant. The state pays for 70% and school districts must cover the rest, but the state money is not permanent.

This year, $7 million was approved in the state budget to continue that baseline salary grant.

Missouri's starting pay, even with the grant, is lower than neighboring states. According to the National Educators Association, Kansas starts teachers at over $40,000, Illinois starts at over $42,000 and Iowa starts at over $39,000.

This year, Arkansas lawmakers discussed raising starting teacher salaries to $50,000, and federal lawmakers were looking at bills to raise the national standard to $60,000.

Where are Missouri's future teachers?

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working on several programs to increase the number of Missouri teachers. One of those is called Grow Your Own, a program that encourages high school students to start working on an education certification. The state invested $2.5 million this year to continue the Grow Your Own Program.

“The next generation of teachers, by and large, are sitting in our high schools," said Paul Katnik with DESE.

All the community colleges, university education programs and 90% of school districts participate in Grow Your Own. Columbia Public Schools played a role in establishing the state program.

"Columbia Public Schools established the Grow Your Own program concept in Missouri in 2015," Buamstark said. "We implemented the idea in 2016. The state’s new program is in large part modeled after CPS’ program. DESE began promoting the concept in 2017."

Columbia Public Schools' program is now called CoMoEd. The first class of CoMoEd graduates started teaching last year.

“What we think we’ve seen in the last year or two is an increase in the enrollment, it seems to be headed up," Katnik said. "But those are folks just starting the training and getting ready, and so that won’t produce a teacher tomorrow.”

However, MTSA questions whether getting new teachers is as important as keeping old ones.

“We talk about opportunities to bring in new teachers, which is important, but we're not focusing and spending a lot of time on what we need to do to keep our experienced teachers in the classroom as well," Fuller said.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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