AP NEWS

Kansas schools address teacher shortage across state

June 22, 2019

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas education officials are raising pay and fast-tracking various teaching professionals in a two-pronged effort aimed at combating teacher shortages.

Last year, Kansas schools had more than 600 vacant positions, many in rural areas and the state’s most urban districts. Low pay has been blamed for much of the trouble attracting and retaining teachers.

Legislative approval of multi-year school funding increases amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars has given districts a chance to offer teacher raises that were difficult to include in previous budgets, the Kansas News Service reported. Fast-tracking teaching assistants and other professionals to head classrooms is the other part of the plan.

Education officials said they believe the upcoming funding boost will alleviate teacher shortages.

“We have an obligation to pay people more,” Education Commissioner Randy Watson said at a State Board of Education meeting. “We have an opportunity that the governor and the Legislature together have given us.”

The Kansas National Education Association said in a statement that average annual teacher pay in Kansas is about $49,800. The national union’s rankings show neighboring states range from just over $50,000 in Missouri to $54,500 in Nebraska.

“Teachers are professionals who shouldn’t need to work two, and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet,” KNEA President Mark Farr said.

The state is also working on two pilot programs that have shown success in filling in vacancies, licensing 126 new teachers over the last two years. Most of those new teachers are in special education while others are teaching at the elementary level.

The elementary program allows people with degrees in a field other than education to teach. The special education initiative makes it easier for paraprofessionals to become fully licensed. Both programs require additional college coursework to get the license.

This fall, the state Board of Education will review whether the two-pronged approach has helped cut the classroom deficit.

“I’m hopeful we’ll see some improvement,” Board of Education Chair Kathy Busch said, “but I don’t think we’re over the hump yet.”

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