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Landmark report shows dire need for minimum starting salary for Kentucky teachers | Opinion

Most of our universities can still remember when teacher training programs were filled with bright-eyed young professionals eager for training and ultimately a degree that would one day give them their own classroom.

Today, universities report a dramatic decrease in the number of students enrolled in teacher training programs. College students no longer see careers in education as safe havens for fostering creativity and growth, even though that’s still what they are. Instead, they see teaching as a low-paying and disrespected career. They see educators accused of teaching far left or far right ideologies even though they represent the goals and values of their communities and are devoted to educating children, along with all the other duties bestowed upon them.

At the same time, fewer teachers are entering the profession, veteran teachers are exiting.

Career educators are concerned about poverty. They’re worried about increasing rates of violence entering their buildings. They’re worried about the hastening pace of technological advances that, while they can be helpful, also put students in danger. Most of all, they’re worried about one big thing: Who will teach our children when all the teachers are gone?

Last year, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) spearheaded the Coalition to Sustain the Education Profession, a 150+ member group of stakeholders from teachers to parents to business leaders to government and elected officials to yes, school leaders. They spent hundreds of hours poring through best practices, research in other states and countries, and available data within our own state borders. The goal? Create a blueprint for which lawmakers, communities, and business leaders can wrap around this workforce crisis and begin turning the tide in Kentucky.

The blueprint, Tomorrow’s Economy Starts Here, was released earlier this fall and outlines 17 policy recommendations. The most urgent boils down to a simple fact: multiple peer-reviewed studies show that student achievement increases at a statistically significant rate when teachers are paid more. Kentucky teachers make an average of $38,010 as they enter their teaching careers, thousands less on average than their similarly degreed peers.

While the Coalition analyzed stacks of data, surrounding states charged ahead of us.

Republican-led states like ours began passing laws establishing a minimum starting salary for teachers that will put Kentucky’s teacher workforce in more danger.

Tennessee passed a law establishing a minimum starting salary of $50,000 over four years, up from $40,000.

South Carolina also established a minimum starting salary of $50,000 over two years and added six weeks of paid parental leave, something Kentucky teachers don’t get.

Meanwhile, Arkansas set its minimum starting salary at $50,000.

Georgia established $2,000 bonuses for teachers.

Florida established a starting pay at $47,000.

New Mexico issued a 20 percent increase to teacher salaries.

Indiana’s average teacher salary will increase to $60,000, compared to $55,016 in Kentucky.

Average starting pay for teachers is currently higher in each of our surrounding states. Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio with whom we share significant miles of border are already aggressively forging ahead with teacher pay to ensure their citizens are not left behind in the race for quality educators who provide communities with a quality lifestyle and economy.

We have a solution.

Our report charges lawmakers to find a way to establish minimum starting teacher salaries at $45,000 per year, in every county, in every district, and future raises to help us reach and exceed the standard set by our surrounding states. It also urges lawmakers to continue increasing funding to the SEEK formula that funds our schools that teachers work in and to return to fully funding transportation for districts to transport kids, a line item that has continued to be woefully under resourced.

We must invest in teachers. Tomorrow’s economy starts in today’s classroom, and we don’t have time to wait.

Rhonda Caldwell
Rhonda Caldwell

Rhonda Caldwell, Ed.D., CAE, is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. Visit www.kasa.org for a copy of the report.