Skewing the Stats

Writer Gretchen Garrity of RightToWinOzarks

We the People of Christian County held a candidate forum in Nixa on March 4, 2024, where an oft-repeated statistic was shared with citizens by Nixa School Board President and candidate Josh Roberts. He said, “We’re fiftieth in the nation, fiftieth in teacher pay. It’s embarrassing, but the local community–we pay more than most other communities–so we are doing our part. It needs to come from the state and federal level to increase teacher pay and not from your pocket.” Roberts was wise to read the prevailing winds, since local taxpayers are increasingly fed up with property tax increases for schools.

Currently, total funding for public schools in Missouri looks like this from the Missouri Budget Project:

 As you can see, local property taxes make up a very large percentage of funding for government schools compared to national percentages. Even though, according to the Missouri Constitution, “Art. IX, Sec. 1(a). Free public schools…the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law.”


But we are going to concentrate on the startling statistic that Roberts shared. How can Missouri be so terribly low in salaries for teacher pay? Dead last? As everyone knows, statistics can be manipulated to show just about anything. Before we go on, ask yourself where did this stat originate?

If you go looking for it you will find it widely reported in the press: “Missouri ranks last in nation for average teacher starting salary.” The “News” has helped to spread this narrative, which the linked article sources as the NEA, the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the United States. Here is the Missouri NEA’s Salary Benchmarks and Rankings. Not light reading at almost 200 pages, and who can trust them?

This very short video (one minute) shares how government schools are funded:

According to the Show Me Institute in an article titled “Breaking: The Actual Starting Teacher Salary According to DESE,” by James V. Shuls, “The NEA report calculates the average starting salary of Missouri’s more than 500 districts. It counts small, low-paying school districts the same as it counts large, higher-paying school districts.

If the Middle Grove School District, which according to the Missouri State Teachers Association is the only district to start teachers at the state minimum of $25,000 and has just 35 students, were to hire one teacher, and the Parkway School District, with more than 17,000 students, were to hire 20 teachers at the starting salary of $44,250, the NEA report would count each district once and say the average starting salary was just $34,625. In reality, the average of those 21 new teachers would be $43,333. This is a difference of more than $8,700.”

“The NEA reports Missouri’s starting salary as $33,234. But what is Missouri’s actual average starting teacher salary?

According to data I have obtained from DESE, the average regular term salary for a first-year teacher in Missouri was $38,367.33 in 2022. This figure was provided directly by DESE after my request. The increase of more than $5,000 would move Missouri up to 37th on the NEA report.”

Do read the whole thing (not long).

There are numerous sites with statistics that rank Missouri anywhere from the bottom to somewhere in the middle of the pack of fifty states:

Education Data Initiative

USA Facts

Congressional Research Service

Missouri School Rankings

Study (teacher salaries by state)

Zip Recruiter (Teacher salaries in Missouri. This is fascinating since this site has no educational agenda)

Zip Recruiter (Teacher salaries by state. Here Missouri ranks 21)

Lastly, as you look at the statistics from the different organizations, you will see that often the differences in salary are only a few hundred dollars from state to state.

As long as we allow the narrative to be about dollars alone as the major comparative, taxpayers will keep taking the hit through manipulation by both the news and school districts. 

What about academic scores? What about cost of living? What about each community’s differing needs and wants?

In an article titled “Follow the Money” by Susan Pendergrass, the question is asked, “Do you ever wonder where more than $250,000 spent on a classroom of 20 students goes? So did we—so we built a website to help answer this question.

The website is excellent and helps citizens to understand more about the labyrinth of school spending in Missouri.

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