Kansas teacher shortage sparks calls for higher wages, paying student teachers

As Kansas faces worst teacher shortage ever knownone group says that the state needs to raise the salaries of teachers, elevate the profession and offer student teachers a salary.

“Part of the problem is that our education salaries stink,” said Rick Ginsburg, dean of education at the University of Kansas. “Add to this the difficult working conditions and a rather critical public. … So you end up with something terribly complex.”

Ginsburg is leading a task force set up by the Kansas Board of Regents that is looking for strategies to reduce the teacher shortage. The group includes the Deans of Education from all Kansas State Universities.

Among the 15 recommendations in the draft report is a call to expand Kansas Teachers Service Scholarship program. It is only available for hard-to-fill academic majors such as math, science, and special education in certain parts of the state.

“All fields are difficult to fill and all districts need teachers,” Ginsburg said. “These kinds of restrictions don’t make sense.”

Expanding scholarships will lower college tuition costs and make teaching a more affordable career option for more people, he said. The group proposes to increase the annual fund from $2.8 million to $20 million over the next three years.

“Let’s face it, one of the barriers to getting into a relatively low-paying job is that tuition is the same at every school, whether you’re going into teaching or…engineering,” Ginzburg said. “Anything we can do to make this more financially feasible makes a lot of sense.”

The task force plan, which he will present to the Regents later this month, also provides for student teachers to be paid up to $5,000 for each semester they serve in classrooms.

“We’re one of the few areas where people do internships that they don’t get paid for, and they actually pay for credit hours to do it,” Ginsburg said.

Counties will have the opportunity to participate in the plan, which will cost about $6.7 million a year statewide. The Task Force proposes that the state pay 75% of a student teacher’s salary and the local school district pay the rest.

The group also wants to make it easier for education professionals to move from community colleges to four-year universities by creating a universal set of 60 credit hours that will apply to the elementary education degree.

And he wants teachers who get enhanced credentials or additional certifications to get more.

“We tend not to do this in the world of education, (and) it’s stupid,” Ginzburg said. “They do it in most other areas.”

The working group’s draft report also calls for Regents to work with other agencies and school districts to raise teacher salaries, improve working conditions, and promote the importance of teachers to schools and communities.

Estimated value of this item? Probably tens of millions of dollars.

“These are some of the problems that we can’t solve — salaries, for example — but you can’t sit around doing nothing either,” Ginsburg told the regents last month. “We’ve identified some areas that can really help our state… in terms of getting more people into the area.”

The teacher shortage is not unique to Kansas, it began before the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2019 Economic Policy Institute report titled “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Job Market”. pointed to approaching retirement, an increase in vacancies, and declining enrollment in teacher training programs.

AND report of the National Center for Education Statistics showed that more than half of US public schools were understaffed at the start of this school year. More than two-thirds said there were too few teacher candidates applying for open vacancies.

In Kansas, counties reported 1,620 job openings, more than in previous years. With schools struggling to fill staff classrooms, the Kansas Board of Education recently relaxed requirements for people who want to work as deputies.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio dedicated to health, social determinants of health, and their relationship to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photographs may be published free of charge by the media with attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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