Kansas dropped from 40th to 41st in the country for average teacher salaries, according to National Education Association, for the 2017-2018 school year.
Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas NEA, said state universities have seen a decline in their education programs due to these difficulties. However, the University of Kansas’ School of Education attendance rates have stayed steady, with a slight incline.
“I think we’re doing a little better than many places,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education. “At best we’re flat, and the demand is up.”
The number of enrolled credit hours for the school jumped from 5,430 hours in the 2008-09 school year to 6,145 in the 2017-18 school year, Ginsberg said. The current fall enrollment is also slightly higher compared to last fall.
Despite this, nationally there has been a 40% decline from 2010 to 2015 in entries into university education schools, Ginsberg said.
He believes aside from a low salary, this could also be due to the strong critiques teacher preparation programs receive.
During what the KNEA calls the “lost decade,” from 2008-2018 when economic growth in the state was at a stand-still, most teachers’ salaries did not increase during the 2017 education finance plan signed into law by former Gov. Sam Brownback, Baltzell said.
“We’ve had a decade where teachers have been disrespected. That’s been apparent in Kansas … We’ve had rights taken away,” Baltzell said. “We’ve had rights to even advocate for students taken away. We have legislators who attack teachers and their interaction and how they deal with students every year in the legislature.”
Now, schools are experiencing larger class sizes, cuts to programs and fewer resources in the classroom, Baltzell said. This specifically has an impact on resources for students with special needs or who are in poverty.
“People are getting turned off by a field that seems to be constantly criticized for reasons that I’m not sure I fully understand, but that’s been the case,” Ginsberg said.
There are multiple steps the School of Education is working toward to increase the undergraduate enrollment, including merging together an undergraduate degree for elementary and special education. With this, students will no longer have to complete the additional coursework in the post-baccalaureate endorsement programs after receiving their bachelor’s degree and a teaching license.
The school is also considering ways to connect with middle and high school students by making the program entry level for freshmen. The school currently does not accept freshmen into the program.
“We wouldn’t have the capacity the way we’re currently constructed to increase our numbers by a lot anyway,” Ginsberg said. “While our actual numbers have been steady or pretty good, the number of people applying has gone down.”
The NEA estimates this current school year could receive an even worse ranking. It predicts Oklahoma, which ranked 49th in average teacher salaries in 2017-18, will eventually pass Kansas.
“We know that there are some districts where teachers … have had essentially parent-teacher conferences in the line at the Target check-out because that teacher is a cashier because they have to work that second job,” Baltzell said.