JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Since the start of the school year, thousands of Missouri school teachers have received a pay raise due to the Teacher Baseline Salary Grant Program. 

Lawmakers approved the program last spring, and it was signed into law over the summer by the governor. Districts do have to opt-in and pay a small portion, but the program increases teacher pay to $38,000. Within the last few months, Emily Fluckey, a teacher in the Meadville School District, saw a $7,000 increase because of the program. 

“The pay raise has really pushed my outlook that they are trying for us educators,” Fluckey said. “I wanted to become a teacher starting back in the first grade, which is actually what I ended up teaching.”

The Meadville School District is about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City. The district, from pre-school through senior year in high school has a total of 250 students. Fluckey is back inside the same school she graduated from and in her second year of teaching where just a few months ago she received a big pay boost. 

“With the pay raise, I was able to move out of my parents’ house,” Fluckey said. “I started living there after I graduated from college.”

She also recently got married and started her master’s degree program. Fluckey said it’s thanks to the General Assembly and governor who approved the Teacher Baseline Salary Grant Program last year, increasing pay to $38,000. 

“That’s given me those opportunities and it’s just helped me feel secure and building a family in the future,” Fluckey said. 

This week, Gov. Mike Parson recognized her during his annual State of the State address. He’s recommending lawmakers once again fund the program. 

“I do think $38,000 for a baseline pay is probably doable for a new teacher going into that profession,” Parson said during a sit-down interview Thursday. “Thank goodness a lot of schools pay more than that but at least it’s a baseline.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has previously said the state is in a teacher shortage crisis, causing some school to pivot to four-day weeks. 

This year, 144 districts across the state have implemented a shortened week, most in rural areas. According to DESE, that’s an increase of more than 100 schools in just four years. Lawmakers approved four-day weeks in the late 2000s to help save schools money after the recession. Now, it’s being used as a carrot to potential candidates. 

Last month, the Independence School District just outside of Kansas City voted to implement a four-day week starting next year. With nearly 14,000 students, it’s the largest district so far to make the switch. 

DESE estimates there are 3,000 positions in Missouri schools that are either vacant or filled by someone not qualified this school year. 

Fluckey said she didn’t become a teacher for the pay, it’s because of the reward. 

“My students walk through the door and whatever happened the day before, it’s a new day, a new opportunity to change lives, to spark an interest of theirs, to learn more about them and just to make a difference,” Fluckey said.

She said she recently spoke to college students who are working to become teachers. 

“The pay raise is great, and it will help, but you also have to have the passion for it,” Fluckey said. “I would just encourage teachers to push through and keep moving and pushing along for the children because that’s what we’re there for.”

More than 356 school districts, about 70%, across the district have opted into the program this year. Under the program, the state pays for 70%, while the rest is on the district. 

After the address, Democrats said they are in favor of the governor’s request, but just wish the pay was more for teachers. 

“If you’re a single mom, with two kids and you want to be a teacher and you’re passionate about it, I don’t know how you make ends meet on that,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “We’re going to keep pushing for more.”

Parson also urged the General Assembly to fully fund school transportation and the K-12 formula and provide $250 million to create an education stabilization fund. 

“I think it’s a good idea, I also think it can be focused on teacher pay if you were to use the fund for formula,” Rizzo said. “Then, you can free up some dollars to do pay increases or something like that, but I do absolutely think it’s a good idea to set aside a bunch of money for the future that we know we’re going to need eventually.”

Back in October, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission, which was formed by the State Board of Education, released its report.

These recommendations come after months of researching what can be done to combat the teacher shortage:

Immediate priorities: 

  • Increasing starting teacher pay to $38,000 and have an annual review from the Joint Committee on Education to ensure teacher salaries remain competitive 
  • Fund the Career Ladder Program which rewards teachers for extracurricular activities
  • Establish sustainable funding for Grow Your Own programs, geared towards paraprofessionals, adults or high school students who want to become a teacher
  • Encourage districts to implement team-based teaching models 

Short-term priorities: 

  • Establish a fund to help local school districts pay for the increased minimum starting salary and to increase teacher pay overall
  • Increase support for educator mental health
  • Fully fund the scholarship program that offers tuition assistance to incoming teachers or to educators continuing their education 

Long-term priorities:

  • Offer salary supplements for filling high-need positions
  • Fund salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification 

The commission also recommends DESE expand the annual teacher recruitment and retention report to include salary data for each local school district, teacher turnover broken down by student achievement and by race, a comparison of Missouri’s starting and average salaries with surrounding states, and openings that have been posted over the past year and the number of applications each opening received. 

Back in June, the State Board of Education voted to expand testing scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. By tweaking the state’s qualifying score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce. 

According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one and four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.