JEFFERSON CITY — The average salary of Missouri teachers ranks 43rd in the country, below all of Missouri’s neighbors except Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to a survey by a teachers union.
The American Federation of Teachers found the national average salary for the 2002-03 school year, the latest data available, was $45,771. In Missouri, the average salary was $37,641. By comparison, the average median household income in Missouri was $43,955 as of 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The base salary for teachers in Columbia Public Schools holding a bachelor’s degree will be $27,600 for the 2004-05 school year, up 9 percent from the previous year. Base salary for teacher’s with a master’s degree will be $31,050. Education groups said the survey shows Missouri needs to spend more money on teacher salaries to keep good people from leaving the profession, or going to teach in another state with better benefits.
“We are asking them to do more and more from the state and federal level,” Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said Wednesday. “We are not properly rewarding them for the work which they do.”
Education is trumpeted as the top priority of the three major candidates for governor — incumbent Democrat Bob Holden, Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill and Republican front-runner Matt Blunt.
Missouri’s average salary increased from the previous year by 4.4 percent, while the national salary average went up 3.3 percent. Missouri’s average salary for a starting teacher ranked 32nd in the nation at $28,075, a 1.7 percent increase from a year earlier, the union said.
The teachers’ union said that while salaries have increased slightly, teachers’ expenses for health insurance, for example, have gone up much more quickly.
Indeed, school districts in Missouri have seen benefit costs rise rapidly, and employee salaries and benefits make up about three-fourths of most districts’ budgets, according to the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
“It’s just essential that we provide our teachers with competitive salaries, or we’re facing the prospect of losing many good people to other states,” Brent Ghan, association spokesman, said.
The Missouri Legislature passed several laws this year that should assist teachers somewhat. One addresses funding for the Career Ladder program, which offers teachers additional pay for extra duties, such as tutoring.
Previously, Career Ladder funding was tied to overall state aid to school districts, so the money available for teachers’ incentives was reduced when districts received less aid than they were due under the school funding formula. Under the new law, Career Ladder funding no longer will be pro-rated with the rest of state school aid. Also, the new law requires severance pay for teachers who are laid off for budget reasons more than 40 days after the governor signs the education budget.
Candidates for governor also say more money should be spent on schools, but they have different ideas for accomplishing that.
Holden continues to say voters must be asked to raise taxes for elementary, secondary and higher education. McCaskill and Blunt both oppose any immediate tax increases, saying the state can send more money to schools by prioritizing spending and cutting administrative costs.
Amelia Skimin, Missourian staff reporter, contributed to this story.