Three questions with .... Rochelle Chronister, chair of the 2010 Commission
Topeka Kansas public schools are facing a teacher shortage that will require big bucks to fix, officials said Tuesday.
"This is probably the most serious problem facing school districts," Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told the 2010 Commission, which studies education issues.
One-fourth of the state's 35,000 teachers will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Meanwhile, young students are shunning the teaching profession for higher paying jobs, or if they do become teachers, they are often leaving Kansas for higher teacher salaries and signing bonuses in other states, Dennis said.
As of June, there were 1,144 teacher vacancies statewide with the most serious shortages in special education, math, science and foreign languages.
"What are we going to do to make the teaching profession what the best want to get into?" asked 2010 Commission Vice Chairman Ray Daniels, former superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., district.
One problem is that teacher salaries in Kansas lag behind much of the nation, officials said.
Kansas ranks 38th in the United States with an average salary of $39,351. To reach the 25th position would require a state funding increase of $135.1 million.
Members of the 2010 Commission said the Legislature would never approve such an increase, but they said it should become a state goal to increase Kansas' ranking over the next several years.
"We don't like to think that our teachers are that far down the list," said 2010 Commission Chairwoman Rochelle Chronister. "And, obviously, if you can't make a living, then you're going to find something else to do. And that's what's happened with a lot of our young people - that they have found other areas."
Lawrence school district Superintendent Randy Weseman said increasing teacher salaries is the key.
"It's not going to get any better unless they earmark money for teacher salaries," Weseman said.
He said the Lawrence district has been able to fill vacancies but that it is difficult to hire science, math and special education teachers.
"And we're in Lawrence, Kansas. We live in a pretty nice place. I can't imagine what it must be like in some areas of Kansas" to recruit teachers, Weseman said.
Commissioners said they would conduct a hearing Aug. 20-21 at the Capitol on proposals to recruit and retain teachers. The proposals would cost approximately $22 million.
Those proposals include:
- $10.5 million for additional compensation to districts to hire hard-to-fill positions.
- $6.25 million to reimburse school districts for professional development.
- $2.5 million to fund programs that will pay off student loans for teachers filling high-demand positions.
- $1.5 million to fully fund a teacher mentoring program. Teachers who are mentored remain in the profession at a higher rate than teachers who are not mentored.
- $1 million for "Grow Your Own" programs in which school districts help pay for a students' college education if they come back and teach in that district.
Commissioners also said the state needed to change the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, which they said provide financial hurdles to retired teachers coming back to teach in the same district.
Several commissioners also spoke in favor of the Legislature approving multiyear school funding levels, which they said would help districts to plan better.
The commission will make recommendations to the Legislature prior to the 2008 legislative session, which starts in January.