A Missouri House committee heard on Wednesday a bill that seeks to give school districts a way to recruit educators in “difficult-to-staff” positions, though some fear it could have negative effects on teachers of popular subjects.
State Representative Ed Lewis R-Moberly told the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee that his legislation has the potential to remedy high teacher vacancy rates in select schools and positions.
Current law prohibits school districts from exiting their specified salary schedule, but the bill would give districts the opportunity to increase pay for positions with high vacancy numbers.
Testimony on the bill referred to the state’s teacher retention shortage, a problem districts are attempting to solve with four-day school weeks, long-term substitute teachers, and the hiring of low-skilled educators. According to data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, seven out of 1,000 teachers in grades 1-6 are underqualified, as of December 2022.
Dava-Leigh Brush, a retired educator, thought the legislation could create a whack the mole game.
“I think people will say, ‘Hey, you’re going to pay me more if I go to this school, so I’m going to go to this school. Now I’m going to create a shortage at this school,'” she said.
He said districts are already negotiating by placing teachers in different areas on the salary scale even if they have the same experience.
“I see the need for this (legislation) in smaller rural districts, but I don’t know if they will be able to have the funding to be able to do it and not pit teacher against teacher,” Brush said.
Representative Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said some teachers whose positions don’t qualify as difficult to staff are also hiring more than other educators, such as those with large classes with English-speaking students and students with personalized learning plans .
“I just wanted to be very aware of the work they’re doing,” she said, “and not pit teachers against each other and say, ‘Well, now I need to move so I can make more money.'”
Lawmakers have agreed that some districts “bargain” by placing educators at various places on the pay scale.
“Some feel they already have this right as it is, and some already use it, even though others say it’s not explicitly stated,” Lewis said. “This would explicitly state that to make sure people can (differentiate pay).”
Nurrenbern said the charter schools lacked a clear salary schedule, which created tensions among staff. She was happy to see Lewis’ bill focused on explicit salary plans.
But she and Rep. Paula Brown D-Hazelwood said they wanted an amendment to clarify that districts cannot discriminate.
“I would certainly like to see an amendment effective here that explicitly states that we will make sure we protect against discrimination based on race, class and gender and certainly against sexual orientation,” Nurrenbern said. “We have seen, too often, openly gay teachers fired from their districts.”
Both Mike Wood, lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association, and Otto Fajen, legislative director of the National Education Association of Missouri, questioned the bill’s removal of the words “applicable to all teachers” when describing the salary plan .
“When you drop the words ‘applicable to all teachers’ in the bill, I’m afraid you’ll end up with districts without any salary plans,” Wood said.
He also feared that shifting resources to “difficult staffing positions” would siphon money away from teachers in more competitive positions.
“It’s easy to get it wrong and you end up doing far more harm to the district’s culture, staff and schools than good,” said Fajen.
The committee took no action on the bill at its Wednesday meeting.
HB 190: Allows school districts to create differentiated salary plans for teachers
Sponsors: Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly