Wichita Classroom spending cuts, uncertain school financing, low pay and eroding tenure protections all play into a hostile climate in Kansas that teachers and school administrators say is spurring a surge of teacher departures and retirements.
At least 3,720 Kansas teachers have left the state, retired or taken jobs outside of education after this past school year, a huge jump from the 2,150 who did so just a couple of years ago, according to a newly released data by Kansas State Department of Education.
The teacher exodus comes as a panel of district judges declared last month that key parts of a new state law for funding public schools violate the state constitution. The panel ordered an immediate increase in funds, but the Kansas Supreme Court later stayed that order pending its review.
But it is not just the financing problems fueling a perception education in Kansas is under attack. The GOP-dominated Legislature also tried to limit teachers' bargaining power and sought unsuccessfully to pass a law that would allow teachers to be criminally prosecuted for presenting material deemed harmful to minors.
"Instead of funding our schools, (lawmakers) are vilifying our teachers," said Mark Farr, a high school science teacher now serving as president of the Kansas National Education Association.
State Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee noted that the Legislature tried to provide schools with two years of financial stability in unstable times with its block grant financing plan, and that some of the more objectionable bills either were never passed or were negotiated into more acceptable versions.
"We value our teachers and try to find the best way possible to get more money in the classrooms," Ryckman said.
Other outside factors are aggravating the defections. Many teachers who stayed put during the economic recession are now leaving for better paying jobs outside education. Demographics also play a role as baby boomers nearing retirement age are coping with new caps on how much outside income a retired teacher can earn while still drawing a state pension.
On Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education will hear a presentation on "exit trend data" for the 2014-15 school year. Preliminary numbers are already raising alarms:
- At least 654 teachers have quit their jobs in Kansas and left the state, according to statistics compiled by the Kansas State Department of Education.
- Teacher retirements surged to 2,326, almost doubling the 1,260 retirements recorded after the 2011-12 school year.
- Another 740 Kansas teachers left the profession entirely, compared to 491 who did so at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
"That puts some hard numbers to what we have been hearing," said Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards. "The numbers are real and the situation has changed in the past few years."
Out-of-state districts are taking advantage of the current situation.
On the Kansas Turnpike near Lawrence a recruitment billboard put up by the Independence, Mo., school district proclaims: "Hiring Teachers for 2015-16." A similar billboard also greets drivers near Goddard.
The district decided to use billboards in neighboring Kansas because it needed to hire 45 new teachers after its voters approved a tax increase in a move to lower class sizes.
"We have seen many more applications in late June and July than we would typically see in a given school year, and honestly most of them are from Kansas," Dale Herl, superintendent for the Independence school district, said.
Jeff Hersh, assistant superintendent for human resources at the Goddard schools, said his district lost two teachers with more than 15 years of experience to Independence. He also noted that the number of candidates he's seen at recruiting fairs has been much lower than in years past.
Goddard had 13 teacher vacancies this year, but only decided to fill two of them due to uncertainty in school financing, Hersh said. That will mean bigger class sizes come fall.
Parent Judith Deedy, who has two 11-year-olds and one 13-year-old in the Shawnee Mission school district, said teachers in Kansas feel threatened by not only by the low pay but the Legislature.
"Why do they think this is going to help us get bright people to go into teaching," Deedy said. "And my kids are still relatively young, we have a ways to go. So I think that it's frightening."