EDITORIAL: Support teachers with better pay

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Feb. 25—If you missed it this week, The Joplin Globe published a seven-part series compiled by reporters across parent company CNHI focused on the national teacher shortage.

The series tackled several questions, including how many teachers are leaving education each year and their reasons for doing so. It also looked at ways stakeholders including state lawmakers, school districts and the public can help stem the turnover.

Missouri is not immune to this issue. State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data shows that 40.5% of Missouri teachers are leaving their school districts after three years.

Low pay is a large factor in teacher turnover, the CNHI report found, making it an obvious place to start when looking for solutions. Missouri ranks 50th in the nation for the average teacher starting salary, paying new educators an average of $33,234, according to the National Education Association.

The situation sounds dire — and that's because it is. There is no role in public society more important than that of a school teacher, the person who literally teaches the next generation and helps them grow into knowledgeable, productive members of their community. If teachers are leaving the field in droves, where does that leave our students?

It's clear that this country and this state need to take better care of its teachers. Fortunately, there are already some things that Missouri is doing right. Republican Gov. Mike Parson listed them as priorities in his State of the State address last month.

This year, his budget proposal would allocate $32 million to expand the Career Ladder Program, which provides salary supplements to teachers for additional responsibilities and voluntary efforts outside the classroom. Nearly 140 school districts and more than 11,000 veteran school teachers participated in the program last year, Parson said.

Parson's budget proposal also would continue the Teacher Baseline Salary Program that raised teacher pay in eligible school districts from $25,000 to $38,000 per year. He said a total of 356 Missouri school districts participated in the program last year and provided pay increases to more than 6,000 school teachers.

Those two programs are great first steps toward compensating teachers more appropriately for the work that they do, and they should be continued. Lawmakers should support these allocations and look for even more ways, as they draft their version of the state budget, to prioritize the funding of public K-12 education.