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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri has the lowest starting teacher salary in the country, according to the National Education Association. Members of the Missouri Board of Education want to increase the salary by $10,000, but it needs approval from lawmakers. 

There are 4,000 teachers in the state making between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, according to Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said

Some legislators have previously argued the state’s pension system makes up for it since educators are required to contribute 14.5% and their employers match that, but the state’s top educator said teachers are leaving before they are eligible for the benefit.

“I would say it’s safe to say we are in a crisis in the teacher workforce,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “While we have been talking about a need to increase teacher salary, while we’ve been talking about the needs to attract and retain our teachers, so are other states.”

The last time Missouri teachers received a raise from lawmakers in Jefferson City was in 2006. Vandeven said in talking to other states, they are also working to raise their teacher pay. 

“Right now, we are at the bottom of those eight bordering states, and I meet with my colleagues often and they are all working to increase those salaries today,” Vandeven said. 

The starting salary for teachers in the Show-Me State is $25,000, the lowest in the country according to the National Education Association (NEA) and nearly 20% under the national average. 

“I mean, that feels unheard of to many people but that is the reality,” Vandeven said. “We value our teachers. I think we need to value education and we need to make sure we’re making that very, very clear as a state.”

The State Board of Education wants lawmakers to increase teachers’ starting pay by $10,000 to $35,000 by 2025. This would cost Missouri an annual $12 million. According to NEA, Missouri’s average salary is $50,817, which ranks 45th in the nation. 

Here’s a look at teachers’ salaries in neighboring states:

Arkansas: 

  • Starting salary: $35,201 – 49th in the nation 
  • Average salary: $50,457 – 47th in the nation

Iowa

  • Starting salary: $37,992 – 35th in the nation 
  • Average salary: $54,096 – 34th in the nation

Kansas

  • Starting salary: $38,314 – 33rd in the nation 
  • Average salary: $51,320 – 44th in the nation

Illinois 

  • Starting salary: $40,484 – 22nd in the nation 
  • Average salary: $68,083 – 12th in the nation 

“I don’t know how many of you have walked out into seeing signs hanging on the door that maybe something is closed because of a staffing shortage, we can’t do that in our schools,” Vandeven said. 

She said Missouri does have a strong pension system, but teachers aren’t sticking around long enough.
 
“Often our teachers don’t stay in the classroom even five years to get vested in that pension system,” Vandeven said. 

Missouri has the highest contribution rate out of its surrounding states, according to TeacherPension.org.

 Missouri: 

  • Teachers’ contribution 14.5%
  • Employer matches that, 14.5%
  • Vesting period: 5 years 

Illinois

  • Teachers’ contribution: 9.81%
  • Vesting period: 10 years 

Arkansas

  • Teachers’ contribution: 6%
  • Vesting period: 5 years 

Kansas 

  • Teachers’ contribution: 6%
  • Vesting period: 5 years 

Iowa 

  • Teachers’ contribution: 6.2%
  • Vesting period: 7 years 

Another priority the State Board of Education wants to see address this legislative session, allowing parents to review the curriculum their child is taught. 

“We’re certainly seen parents have a very active voice in wanting to understand what materials are selected, how you go about that process,” Vandeven said. “Missouri has historically always been a local control state. We set standards at the state level and then local districts select how they are going to teach and meet those standards.”

Other priorities members on the Board of Education want to see is DESE discussing with stakeholders the possibility of open enrollment, meaning a student could attend a public school outside of the district the family lives in.

“It’s a great opportunity coming off the heels of the pandemic where we experienced education in lots of different ways across the state,” Vandeven said. “What worked, what didn’t work.”

Vandeven said board members have also stressed the importance of addressing the digital divide throughout the state. 

Lawmakers return for session Jan. 5. 

Click here to see the rest of the board’s 2022 legislative priorities: https://dese.mo.gov/media/pdf/state-board-education-2022-legislative-priorities