Teachers Leaving Kansas Or Quitting The Profession Jumps Dramatically

Aug 9, 2016

A billboard from last year along the Kansas Turnpike trying to recruit Kansas teachers to apply in Independence, Missouri. A new report released Tuesday shows the problem of teachers leaving the profession in Kansas is not getting better.
Credit KCUR 89.3

The number of teachers leaving Kansas or simply quitting the profession has dramatically increased over the last four years.

The annual Licensed Personnel Report was released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Education. While it was provided to the Board of Education meeting in Topeka Tuesday, the report was buried in board documents and not addressed by either staff or the board.

The report shows that 1,075 teachers left the profession last year, up from 669 four years ago. That's a 61 percent increase.

The number of teachers who left the state doubled in the last four years, from 413 in 2012 school year to 831 in the last school year.

“When you’re under attack almost continually and called lazy and overpaid and incompetent of course you’re going to leave the first chance you get,” says Mark Desetti, the top lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA). “It’s just shocking to me.”

The number of teachers who are retiring has also been steadily increasing over the last four years. In 2012, 2,084 teachers retired. Last year that jumped to 2,693. Still that's a 22 percent hike.

While the state Board of Education did not discuss the report, which in past years has generally been part of the agenda, Chairman Jim McNiece talk about the growing problem of teachers leaving the state as the meeting opened. 

McNiece told the board about a conversation he had with the chair of the Nebraska State Board of Education. "He wanted to say thank you to Kansas for sending so many teachers to Nebraska,” McNiece told his board colleagues. “Ouch. Big Ouch.”

Some educators have been worried about teachers leaving the state or the profession for a long time. "The trend started years ago but has clearly accelerated," says Mark Tallman from the Kansas Accociation of School Boards (KASB).

The problem of teachers fleeing Kansas came to light a year ago when the Independence School District in Missouri bought two billboards touting open jobs in the district. Not only was there data on teachers leaving Kansas but data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that showed the number of license applications from teachers with a Kansas address had doubled since 2011.

“We have spent out time in the Legislature tearing teachers down and then wondering why they don’t want to teach anymore,” says Desetti from KNEA. “We need to reverse that trend.”

State Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway, agrees that lawmakers are partly responsible. “You’ve got just this constant refrain in the Legislature from a certain faction that our schools are failing. That we need good teachers not all these bad teachers. They don’t have a right to their political voice," she says. "It should come as no surprise that there’s a morale problem and an ensuing brain drain exodus.”

The state board did discuss a report from a blue ribbon panel on how to retain teachers in Kansas. That report was released last month and accepted by the board today.

It showed what the panel called a "greening" of the profession. Almost a quarter of all teachers in Kansas have less than four years experience and 40 percent have less than nine years in the classroom. The blue ribbon report also said that fewer students are majoring in education.

The panel made 60 recommendation including better pay, improved mentoring and just a general improvement in how teachers are treated in the state.

The Board of Education took no action on any of the recommendation. It created another committee to address the concerns.

All agreed it will take a statewide effort to improve teacher retention. “Local Chambers of Commerce, they’ve got a role to play. Community infrastructures and governments have a role to play," says Ken Weaver, Dean of Emporia State University's Teacher College and co-chair of the blue ribbon panel.  "There’s a lot of opportunity for partnerships. Lot of opportunity for relationship building."

Sam Zeff  is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.