Kentucky’s teacher shortage has reached critical proportions

March 27, 2024

By Rhonda Caldwell, Kentucky Association of School Administrators

Every morning across the Commonwealth, children walk into our schools to engage in one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind—a free public education. As children enter the classroom, their unique experiences accompany them. Yet, no matter the strength or opportunity for growth a child brings into that classroom, a single caring adult is there to greet them day in and day out—their teacher.

However, Kentucky’s dire teacher shortage has reached critical proportions. The shortage impacts our children’s ability to learn every single day.

Teachers are being recruited across state lines to teach in Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee for higher pay. They are being recruited daily to school districts that can offer a higher salaries. Our Kentucky teachers struggle to pay their bills and in some cases utilize local food banks to put food on the table for their families. The average starting teaching salary in the state is $38,010 with the lowest being $33,000.

When Indiana boasts an average teacher salary of $60,00, and Ohio offers $77,000, the choice for our teachers is a stark one—cross state lines to support their families or remain in Kentucky where they prefer to live and teach but will struggle for a living wage. This holds true inside our state boundaries, as well. Like any professional, teachers will navigate to other districts for salaries that will better care for their families.

Recently in southern Kentucky, billboards have been constructed to recruit teachers to teaching across the state line in Tennessee where the starting salary for teachers is $50,000. This is currently a $12,000 pay increase from Kentucky’s average starting salary. Teachers considering whether they need to teach a few miles south of the state line are easily convinced when the difference is an extra $1,000 per month coupled with no income tax.

The growing support in other states around the nation has taken hold beyond those bordering Kentucky. Arkansas and South Carolina joined Tennessee with starting pay at $50,000 and New Mexico recently announced $52,000 which pales in comparison to Kentucky’s average starting pay of $38,010.

Undoubtedly, teachers across the Commonwealth recount their stories of the profound joys and immeasurable rewards inherent in the profession. These heartwarming narratives resonate far beyond the classroom, shaping the very trajectory of their students’ lives for generations to come. At the same time, there are heartbreaking stories of teachers being the sole loving adult in a child’s life, where they find peace and comfort in the hours they spend at school.

Amidst the rewarding narratives are the heartbreaking stories of teachers being the only caring adult in a child’s life where they find rest and solace in the hours they spend at school. Yet, despite these profound contributions, the profession fails to alleviate the financial burden that accumulates for teachers. All these rewarding aspects of the profession will not pay the monthly bills.

When legislation arises that requires districts to deal with issues that do not directly impact increasing teacher pay, such as unnecessary financial audits or book bans in which there are already processes for dealing with – it ultimately serves as a distraction from addressing the underlying issue, namely there is a shortage of highly qualified teachers in Kentucky classrooms. When this solution is addressed head on by recruiting and retaining through compensation that is fair and competitive, it will address numerous other problems that are all downstream of this solution.

It is time for a historical investment, a single solution that will impact many issues within schools. It is time to move beyond proposing legislation that doesn’t truly address the most pressing issue in Kentucky’s public schools.

It is time to look the teacher shortage squarely in the eye and do something that will impact Kentucky’s 640,000 students, their families and our communities on a daily basis, namely, to ensure a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. It is imperative that all teachers making less than $45,000 be raised to this amount while providing a 10 percent increase to all other teachers over the next two biennia.

The time for contemplation is over. Let us act boldly and secure a brighter future for our students by ensuring a high-quality teacher greets them at every single school room door across Kentucky.

Rhonda Caldwell, CAE, Ed.D.

KY Assn of School Administrators

87 C. Michael Davenport Blvd

Frankfort, KY 40601

(5020 875-3411 * * @kasaedleader