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Shrinking Kansas Budgets Push Many Teachers Across State Lines

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Kansas is having such trouble recruiting and retaining teachers, some job postings are going up on billboards. Huge tax cuts have led to big declines in revenues, and public schools are among the institutions that have taken a hit. The current political climate is driving teachers to other states, as Sam Zeff of member station KCUR reports.

SAM ZEFF, BYLINE: So I'm standing near mile marker 211, about eight miles east of Lawrence, and in front of me is a billboard that reads Independence Missouri School District hiring teachers now.

DALE HERL: Yes. We do have two billboards in Kansas along major areas where people drive.

ZEFF: That's Independence School superintendent, Dale Herl, who bought two billboards this year. His district is growing by hundreds of students a year, and he needs a lot more teachers.

JULIE WILSON: I think teachers have done more with less for a number of years, and it does wear on you.

ZEFF: Julie Wilson coordinates teacher recruitment and retention in Kansas. With just six weeks ago before classes began, there are about 700 open jobs in Kansas, double, Wilson says, the number they usually have this close to school.

MORGAN RODECAP: OK. So the point of today - yes, this is the square root of 10.

ZEFF: Morgan Rodecap just finished her master's degree and took a job teaching middle school math this summer in Independence, Mo.

RODECAP: But a lot of, like, my Missouri friends - as we're becoming new teachers and getting our degrees, we're not looking in Kansas.

ZEFF: Rodecap worries about the shrinking budgets in Kansas, a school funding scheme that has been found unconstitutional and a legislature that has stripped teachers of tenure. Rodecap always wanted to return home to Topeka to teach, but not now.

RODECAP: It's definitely sad that I can't be where family is, and it's angering that this kind of thing is affecting kids.

ZEFF: Data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education suggest there is indeed a migration of teachers from Kansas to Missouri. In 2011 before huge tax cuts were enacted, only 85 applications for Missouri teaching licenses were filed with a Kansas address. In the next three years, as school budgets were slashed, applications doubled. And this has some Kansas educators concerned about the future. Mark Tallman is with the Kansas Association of School Boards and just finished meeting with educators in dozens of school districts.

MARK TALLMAN: Certainly Kansas has gone through the last few years - I think what many people see as an unusual amount of instability or at least potential instability.

ZEFF: And as that hampers school districts across Kansas, superintendents like Dale Herl in Missouri are having an easier time luring teachers across state lines.

TALLMAN: Is there a correlation between the number of teachers leaving Kansas and the atmosphere? I would have to think so.

ZEFF: Some fear the long-term effect on Kansas education. School districts now have to worry about a shrinking pool of young teachers just as massive baby boomer retirements loom, meaning the true damage might not be felt for years. For NPR News, I'm Sam Zeff in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.