Jessica Larson
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Kansas teachers aren’t in it for the money.
“I went to the School of Ed and I chose to be a teacher – not for the money. If I wanted to be a teacher for the money, I would have dropped a long time ago,” said Katie Higgins, a recent School of Education graduate from the University of Kansas.
It’s also what Ann Bruemmer has observed during her 38 years in public schools. She was a teacher before becoming a principal at Hugoton Elementary School, south of Dodge City, in 1995.
“Teachers probably have the only profession that requires many degrees, without getting the respect that professions like doctors, nurses and lawyers get,” she said.
Teachers have to be dedicated to teach in Kansas today because the fiscal incentive simply doesn’t exist, Bruemmer said. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the average teacher’s salary in the United States was more than $56,000 in 2013. The average teacher’s salary in Kansas for the same year was nearly $9,000 less at approximately $47,000.
Kelly Thomas, the associate dean of the School of Education at KU, said the state’s budget problems have left new teachers with additional hard dilemmas. Earlier this month, the legislature voted to delay $99 million in payments to the state’s pension fund for public employees, including teachers, until 2018. The reason for the delay is the state’s budget problems, and Gov. Sam Brownback will have to decide whether to approve the legislature’s recommendations.
Thomas said new teachers are likely to question whether they would like to stay in the state. In the past, this might have not been something they would have considered.
“The press surrounding the budget casts a bit of doubt in the minds of our new graduates on whether they would like to remain here in Kansas, particularly when there are opportunities around the country,” she said.
KU’s School of Education has historically seen around 85 percent of graduates remain in the Kansas to teach. In 2015 the percentage noticeably lowered, Thomas said.
William Hammond, Dodge City’s executive director of operations, said his district is suffering from a shortage of teachers wanting to work in Kansas. The district has had to increase class sizes in primary education due to this shortage.
“We have had a hard time just getting teachers. This year we had five elementary positions go unfilled just because we couldn’t find the teachers. They’re just not out there today,” Hammond said.
Thomas and the school attribute this shortage to a few possibilities, including how new KU grads weigh the stability of available retirement plans. KU’s School of Education has seen a large shift in grads accepting positions in Missouri, instead of Kansas.
“Missouri has a really strong retirement system for their teachers, and Kansas has historically, too. But, there has been some talk about different [budget solutions] that might effect the retirement system for educators in Kansas,” Thomas said. “This could make new teachers nervous.”
Bruemmer said if the education crisis isn’t solved soon, staff will have to be cut and class sizes will increase. Teachers’ salaries could also be compromised. These possible outcomes are unfavorable to teachers, especially those new to the field.
“As a first grade teacher, I make $29,000 a year,” Higgins said, pointing out how she felt her salary was very close to the poverty line in America. The U.S. Office of Budget Management has defined the poverty line as annual income of $24,230 for a family of four.
Bruemmer said legislators coming to schools and learning about the issues that are specifically impacting students and teachers would help.
“The reality is, [legislators] are not going to do it. They’re busy, they have other things to do besides dealing with education. Until we figure out how to fund education, we’re going to continue to struggle,” she said.
Thomas said the KU School of Education is watching the budget situation closely, and in the meantime is encouraging its students to not become discouraged with Kansas public education.
“We are encouraging our students to remember why they chose the profession and to focus on becoming new teachers,” Thomas said.
Edited by Leah Sitz