Yael T. Abouhalkah

Oops: Sam Brownback uses wrong figures for Kansas teachers’ salaries, damages his credibility

Gov. Sam Brownback used wrong figures Friday in talking about average teacher salaries in Kansas and Missouri.
Gov. Sam Brownback used wrong figures Friday in talking about average teacher salaries in Kansas and Missouri. The Wichita Eagle

In another blow to his credibility, Gov. Sam Brownback at a press conference on Friday used wrong information to make his case that Kansas teachers make far more money than teachers in Missouri.

Brownback used the same questionable data in a recent op-ed column, co-authored by Ken Willard, a state board of education member.

Here’s the precise claim: “Kansas average teacher salary has increased every year since 2010, and last school year totaled $54,907. This compared to Missouri, where teachers have experienced two pay cuts since 2010, and average just $47,847 per year.”

Wow: That’s a 15 percent pay advantage for Kansas.

Or is it?

The topic is a hot one, because of evidence that some Kansas teachers are leaving the state for jobs in Missouri and elsewhere, given the uncertainty surrounding education funding in the Sunflower State.

And here’s the problem: The information Brownback is using, provided by his staff, compares apples and oranges.

The Kansas figure is from a report put out by the State Department of Education, showing an average teacher salary of $47,550 for 2014-15. That grows with the addition of average extra pay for summer school along with fringe benefits to the $54,907 figure.

Now look at Missouri.

According to an email from spokeswoman Nancy Bowles of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: “The average teacher salary in Missouri for 2014-15 is $48,483. Districts do not report benefits to the department.”

You can see the problem.

The Kansas figure is inflated with fringe benefits.

The Missouri figure is not.

But at his Friday afternoon press conference, when the media asked whether both numbers compared the same thing, Brownback said they did. His policy director, Brandon James Smith, said the same thing.

I reached out to Bowles during the press conference and she reconfirmed that the data kept by her department did not include fringe benefits given to teachers.

Notice this: According to both state departments of education, the actual average teacher salaries for the two states are pretty close, with Missouri actually a bit higher. That’s with no fringe benefits.

That dovetails with a national report that showed the two states with similar average teacher salaries of the mid-$47,000 range in the 2012-13 school year.

At 5:36 Friday, Eileen Hawley, communications director and press secretary for Gov. Brownback issued this response:

“The numbers regarding teacher salaries referenced today did include various types of fringe benefits and additional pay for teachers in both Kansas and Missouri. The Departments of Education in Kansas and Missouri include different items in what they consider “benefits and additional pay.” However, the reported average salaries, with no benefits or additional pay, indicate Kansas teachers earn more per year than do Missouri teachers.”

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

Related stories from Kansas City Star