February 27, 2020 3 min read

Using business experience to fix Missouri’s teacher shortage

Missouri public schools play a huge role in developing the state’s workforce of the future. However, an ongoing teacher shortage means many Missouri schools are facing workforce issues of their own.

According to a 2019 report, there are more than 3,500 positions in our state’s public schools that are either unfilled or being filled by unqualified educators.

unqualified or vacant positions in our state’s public schools today. This is making it hard for districts to maximize the potential of the students they are educating — likely contributing to the business community’s concerns that Missouri’s high school graduates are largely not ready for work.

The Missouri General Assembly is working on a bill to help fill these teacher shortages with experienced professionals.

Rep. Kathy Swan, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, has filed House Bill 2435. This bill expands the visiting scholars program, which allows districts to hire people who have the knowledge and experience needed to make a difference in the state’s classrooms — even if they don’t yet have traditional teaching credentials.

For business professionals, this could open up a pathway to test drive a second career as an educator before spending years working toward getting the credentials for a permanent job.

“It’s one more tool in the toolbox that can help schools fill their resource pipeline for hard-to-fill subject areas while creating an attractive entry point for professionals considering teaching as a second career,” said Rep. Swan, a 2019 Missouri Chamber Business Champion.

The bill was heard by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education on Feb. 25. The committee then passed the bill on Feb. 27.

Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman testified in support of the bill during the hearing.

“In every county in the state of Missouri, there are professionals with content knowledge in many subject areas with high vacancies — math courses, science courses, language courses, just to name a few. Our goal here is to open up career pathways for students and this bill gives us the chance,” he said.

Tony Gragnani, principal of Hickman High School in Columbia, also attended the hearing. He said he believes the legislation could give students the ability to learn from professionals who can show how classroom learning is applicable in real-world employment situations.

“We want to be able to bring in those people who have already worked in those fields, already done those jobs, already have those certificates,” Gragnani said. “They can come in and immediately make an impact on our students.”

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In 2018, the Missouri Chamber helped pass a law that allowed professionals to teach in specific business-education partnerships. The legislation being considered this year would create more opportunities for professionals who want to consider teaching and give schools greater freedom to bring professionals into their classrooms.

“We believe that for our workforce to be adequately prepared for the future, we must maximize engagement between the business and educational communities,” said Kara Corches, Missouri Chamber director of legislative affairs. “That’s exactly what this bill does. We support this bill’s objective to address this teaching shortage as well as prepare students for a variety of career pathways.”

The bill now faces several more steps in the legislative process before it can become law — including debate on the House floor and then consideration by the Senate.

Rep. Swan urged lawmakers to consider how this legislation has the potential to make a broad impact on our state’s workforce and economy.

“The teaching profession creates all other professions,” she said. “When that system is not creating high quality graduates, the whole system suffers for it.”

For more information, contact Corches at kcorches@mochamber.com or 573-634-3511.

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