House Bill 190 and the Teacher Shortage
House Bill (HB) 190 is on the move in the Missouri House of Representatives, as it is now being debated in committee. What is HB 190? It’s a bill that would allow Missouri school districts to pay teachers different amounts if they teach in a “high-need subject area or school.”
If a school has more than a 5% teacher vacancy or is filled with non-fully certified teachers, then it qualifies as a “high-need school.” “High-need subject areas” are defined as subjects in which a district had to leave a position vacant or filled the position with non-fully certified teachers in the previous year. Missouri uses a “single salary schedule,” which sets a salary floor for teachers with a bonus for master’s degree holders. Currently, a district cannot pay a science teacher more than an English teacher with similar experience and degree level—a master’s degree in physics is equivalent to a master’s degree in English.
As an example: under HB 190, a district could offer a new special education teacher (a high-need position in many districts) a salary above the current salary floor to recruit the teacher. Districts are also allowed to raise the salaries of current teachers in high-need subject areas in order to retain them. There are some limitations—HB 190 does not allow a district to demote a different teacher in order to use this enhanced flexibility to recruit or retain a teacher. Districts are limited by their own budgets, they can choose to offer these high salaries, but they must make space to do so without lowering other teachers’ salaries.
The broader debate on this topic is about an alleged teacher shortage in Missouri. But the problem is not quite that simple, or quite that broad. Missouri is having trouble recruiting teachers in specific subject areas, such as special education and mathematics. The problem is also highly concentrated; 5 school districts accounted for almost 50 percent of school vacancies in 2022. Given that Missouri is having trouble attracting teachers for certain high-need areas and schools, it makes sense to allow districts to pay certain teachers more in order to persuade candidates to fill those jobs.
Despite the logic of HB 190, several lawmakers voiced their opposition in a recent committee hearing, claiming it would “pit teacher against teacher” and that the bill would end up “doing a lot more harm to the culture of the district and the staff and schools than good.” These complaints don’t add up. There’s already significant pay differentiation in schools among teachers—veteran teachers make more money, and so do teachers with advanced degrees. Paying teachers in certain subject areas more money is just one additional variable.
This policy might also encourage Missouri teachers to gain additional skills and certifications in order to qualify for higher-paying positions. An English teacher might spend time learning about special education reading to become a teacher in a high-need subject area and receive the corresponding pay increase. This could potentially help schools fill vacancies faster, as it may be easier to promote from within instead of embarking on an external search.
We have a narrow problem in Missouri with hiring specific teachers, and that means we need a targeted solution. Pay differentiation is an idea worth strongly considering, and the objections from critics, at least so far, don’t have much merit. I’m glad to see that the legislature appears to be taking this idea seriously.