Kansas must do more for teachers and schools

Kansas teachers seek support for education, but many aren’t finding it.
Kansas teachers seek support for education, but many aren’t finding it. The Associated Press

As Kansas education officials were expressing angst this month over reports of teachers leaving their jobs at an alarming rate, the Olathe School District announced plans for closing a $2 million budget hole.

Among the cost-cutting measures: The demise of a one-on-one mentoring program for first-year teachers.

The events are part of the same downward spiral. Nationwide, 40 to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years;, many cite a lack of support as their chief reason. The Olathe district was spending about $75,000 a year to compensate veteran teachers for monitoring and counseling new teachers in their buildings.

Now that service is gone. And with it, perhaps, a reason for teachers to commit to an increasingly tough profession.

That’s especially the case in Kansas. Data recently presented to the state Board of Education shows steadily rising numbers of teachers leaving the profession over the past four years, from 491 departures in 2011-2012 to 740 in the academic year just completed.

The report detailed an equally alarming rise in teachers who left Kansas for jobs in other states. This year, 654 teachers made that move, compared with 399 in the 2011-2012 school year.

The number of teachers retiring has nearly doubled over the last four years.

Finances are the overriding problem. Deep tax cuts enacted in 2013 forced school districts around the state into ongoing budget-cutting modes.

Most school districts have tried to keep cuts away from the classroom. But often the reductions mean less support and more duties for teachers.

No one sees light at the end of this tunnel. Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson warned his school board this week to expect less state aid this year.

Hostility plays a role, too. Kansas teachers have watched the governor and Legislature remove their right to a hearing before termination and chip away at their retirement system. A bill that passed the state Senate this year would have made it easier to prosecute teachers who distribute materials that some deem inappropriate.

Brownback and the Legislature should treat the reports on the teacher exodus as a wake-up call. Kansans value public education. They want schools staffed by talented, enthusiastic professionals.

The governor and lawmakers must give schools adequate, stable funding and stop proposing laws that teachers find offensive and punitive. Until that happens, the drain will continue.