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Kansas science and math teachers easily recruited away
Last week, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis posed a riddle to the State Board of Education.
A couple of years ago, he said, Fort Hays State University graduated two new physics teachers. He asked the board to guess which school district hired them.
The answer: None. They went to work for Sprint Corp.
Dennis said that was an indicator of how low average teacher salaries are in Kansas, compared to what people can earn in other professions.
According to the website TeacherPortal.com, which used data from the National Education Association, the average teacher salary in Kansas in 2011 was $46,598, ranking 41st in the country, just ahead of Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.
The average starting salary was $32,964, ranking 33rd in the country.
It's often suggested that's because Kansas is a low-wage state generally, and that relatively low wages here are offset by a similarly low cost of living.
So another way of measuring teacher pay which takes that into account is what many people call the "teacher penalty" - the amount of salary a person gives up by going into teaching, as opposed to other comparable professions which generally require a bachelor's degree or better: accounting, architecture, the clergy, journalism, registered nursing and insurance underwriting, to name a few.
Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit group that publishes Education Week, measures that differential every few years, most recently in 2012. Its conclusion was that a Kansas teacher earns only 88.8 cents on the dollar compared to comparable professions, ranking the Sunflower State 16th from the bottom.
You can download the entire 2013 Quality Counts report from the group's website.
The worst salary market for teachers by far is the District of Columbia, where college-educated adults obviously earn a lot more money working for, or lobbying, the federal government. There, teachers earn just 65.3 cents on the dollar.
Wyoming ranked highest in the latest survey, with teachers there earning 31.4 percent more than comparable professions. Rhode Island, Michigan, Vermont and Ohio rounded out the top five.
There are only 13 states where teachers have achieved "parity," meaning they earn at least as much as their counterparts in other professions.
According to Dennis, that explains why it's so easy to recruit Kansas teachers away from the teaching profession, especially if they're certified in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math.
"It's not uncommon for math, science, chemistry and physics teachers to be recruited by the private sector," Dennis said. "They have good communication skills, they work well and collaborate well with others. They may not know everything about a phone system, but the companies can train them on that."