The headline on a recent Associated Press story about the shortage of teachers in Kansas probably made some school officials laugh.
"Lawmakers to school officials: Consider paying teachers more," it said.
To which school officials might respond with a sarcastic "duh."
The real question is where districts will get the money to pay teachers more. From that standpoint, it is welcome news that at least a few state legislators are getting the message that the state is facing a crisis when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified teachers.
The above-quoted headline was on a story about a meeting in Salina at which lawmakers were saying that districts should consider paying teachers in high-demand subject areas - specifically math, science and special education - a higher wage. Teacher associations usually have insisted on salaries being based on seniority and education level, without preference for certain subjects. Rethinking that policy may be a step in the right direction, but other actions also are needed.
At the end of November, school administrators and state education officials met for a "Teacher Recruitment and Retention Summit" in Topeka. At the summit, they shared their concern that despite more aggressive, creative recruitment campaigns, Kansas school districts still are having trouble filling the vacancies.
The superintendent of the Wichita school district noted that in the past, he usually has had about 200 teaching vacancies to fill each year. Now, he said, it's more like 450. As a result, schools in Wichita and Topeka have had to take aggressive steps, including going international in their search for teachers. This year, Wichita hired 30 teachers from the Philippines and Topeka hired 18.
The problem actually is a combination of several problems. Long-term teachers can retire with benefits at a relatively young age, and a large number of Kansas teachers now are reaching that age. Rural districts in Kansas have trouble recruiting because their locations are viewed as too remote. But for Mike Lane, president of Emporia State University, the bottom line is simple to identify. "They're leaving for the money, folks," he told the statewide summit, "That's the single biggest reason."
There seems to be little doubt that higher salaries would help ease teacher shortages. Reportedly, both House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and Senate President Steve Morris are ready for the Kansas Legislature to tackle the issue of teacher shortages. Kansas education officials, and really all Kansans, should be keeping their fingers crossed that legislators are willing to take their own advice and consider finding the money to let school districts pay teachers more.