Mid-Missouri schools seek state dollars to boost teacher pay; hundreds of thousands spent locally
COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring starting pay up for teachers in Mid-Missouri this year.
In the Mid-Missouri area, rural districts ranging in size were most dependent on the money, from the more than $150,000 spent in North Callaway to the $52,000 spent in Southern Boone.
Schools may now be able to begin applying for the second round of grants, which would be awarded after governor signs next year's budget. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released updated guidance for schools looking to apply for the program known as the teacher baseline salary grant. In a newsletter sent out Wednesday morning, DESE said that it is starting the process for districts to apply for the grant for the 2023-2024 school year.
Under the grant, any public school district or charter school that has a base salary for teachers that is between $25,000 and $38,000 will be able to apply.
Educators and legislators have pushed to bring Missouri's lowest-in-the-nation teacher pay up. State law sets the minimum at $25,000, but last year the legislature approved the salary grant program to help schools pay teachers at least $38,000.
The state will provide up to 70% of the money needed to reach the base salary of $38,000, while the other 30% will come from local sources. According to the newly released guidance, the money cannot be used toward extra-duty pay, salary-related benefits or any other non-regular teaching duties.
This is an optional grant program, and districts with baseline salaries under $38,000 are not required to apply.
As of December of last year, Missouri was ranked last in the nation for teacher salaries. DESE also released that half of Missouri teachers leave teaching by their fifth year. This prompted DESE and Gov. Mike Parson to make paying teachers better wages a priority and to request the continuation of this grant program.
More than 300 school districts applied for the grant in 2022. Frederick town received $190,361 to pay 55 teachers the base pay, making it the district that received the most money. Blair Oaks received only $410 for two teachers, making it the district that received the least.
Other local schools that received a lump sum of money include:
- Boonville - $98,508 for 34 teachers
- North Callaway Co. - $156,102 for 54 teachers
- Fulton 58 - $82,200 for 61 teachers
- Southern Boone Co. - $52,502 for 39 teachers.
The grant program is only eligible for one year. School districts will be contacted when the application becomes available.
Missouri State Teacher's Association spokesman Todd Fuller said he would like to see the money built into each school district's budget, rather than a grant that lasts a year.
"I think it's a little concerning," Fuller said. "I mean at some point it needs to be something that is not just a grant, but something that becomes a part of the budget every year."
Paul Katnik -- assistant commissioner office of educator quality for DESE -- countered it by saying the state has to approve the amount of money each year, which is why the grant can only be given out on a yearly basis.
"Since 70% matches our money, that's gotta be approved each year, so it's gonna be something looked at each year," Katnik said.
Fuller also said that the problem does not only stem from teachers looking to find work at a better-paying district in Missouri, but in states that border Missouri as well. He gave Arkansas as an example, which he said pays its teachers $50,000.
"We're not only gonna have to compete against ourselves from district to district, we're going to have to compete against neighboring states," Fuller said.
Some school districts that had teachers who were pair under $38,000 in 2022 did not apply for the grant, according to Fuller. This is largely because of the fact that the grant only lasts for a year, which made some districts afraid that they'd only be able to give the teachers a pay raise last year, and not be able to afford it the following year.
Fuller said he believes a simple increase in the percentage the state provides each district would incentivize them to apply for it, if approved for the 2023-24 school year.
"If we were able to increase the percentage from the state even just to 80% , I think it would change the minds of some of the administrators and the individuals working on the finances in those districts, and they would become part of that grant process as well," Fuller said.