The Silver Lining on the Blue Ribbon Commission Report
I vividly remember the days when I would ask for a new video game or pair of basketball shoes, and my dad would respond with the classic, “Son, money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Well, I wish twelve-year-old me could show him the Missouri Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission’s report on what needs to be done in order to solve Missouri’s “teaching shortage,” because apparently, a money tree has bloomed and is ripe for the picking.
The report recommended increasing the minimum starting salary for teachers to $38,000, funding the Career Ladder Program (which rewards teachers for extra work that contributes to students’ academic outcomes), establishing a fund to help local school districts pay for the recommended salary increase, adding more paid wellness days (which means hiring more substitute teachers), funding a tuition assistance program for teachers, and providing salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification.
Funding the starting salary, Career Ladder, and tuition assistance alone would cost an additional $91.5 million—and that is not including the costs for raising other teachers’ salaries who reside above the new $38,000 floor.
While those on the commission were feeling generous endorsing the handout of government funds, similar to Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas (who would give $100 to the bartender just for keeping the ice cubes cold), they did recommend an additional salary supplement for teachers in “high-need” areas.
Show-Me Institute researchers have previously discussed how pay differentiation for teachers could help fix the shortage of specific teachers in the state. Missouri utilizes a “single salary schedule,” which sets a salary floor for teachers who are new and those with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree. The remainder of the salaries in the schedule are calculated by pay increases relating directly to experience and degree acquisition.
This type of schedule rewards teachers solely based on experience and college degrees while ignoring teacher quality, relative teacher supply, and alternative market options. A potential mathematics teacher, who would be in low supply, is therefore not offered her market equivalent wage, and may choose a higher paying vocation. If schools truly want to be competitive and recruit teachers in low-supply fields, then they must respond to competitive market forces.
Almost fifty percent of teachers said they would quit their job if differentiated pay or pay for performance was implemented. Mark Walker, the commission’s chairman, critiqued this stance, stating: “The biggest surprise to us businesspeople serving on the Blue Ribbon Commission is the lack of flexibility you all [the board] has for meeting high-need positions, it’s unbelievably inappropriate in today’s highly competitive market.”
The commission has been tasked with finding solutions to the teaching crisis, and this report could possibly be an impetus to put pay differentiation into practice. I’m glad that leaders of the commission acknowledged that the hostility to pay differentiation is fundamentally unreasonable, but I wish it had been the primary focus of a much less expensive report.