COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) – Facing a critical teacher shortage, legislators at the Ohio Statehouse are looking to raise the bar for starting teacher salaries to $40K annually.

This change would benefit more than 16,000 teachers in lower-income districts across the state, a 33% increase for first-year educators.

The proposal comes in response to a dramatic shift in the workforce. About 600,000 teachers have left public education since January 2020, according to the US Department of Labor and Statistics.

“If we’re going to give students what they need in terms of a high-quality education no matter where they live in the state of Ohio, making sure that we are fairly paying teachers is very important,” Ohio Education Association (OEA) President Scott DiMauro said.

DiMauro explained that 50% fewer college students are choosing a career in education, leaving a shallow talent pool amid a mass exodus from the profession. The OEA has been pushing for this change for years.

 “Addressing that pay gap is really critical,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the important step that leaders in the House of Representatives have taken to set that new minimum level at $40K. It doesn’t get us completely to where we need, but it’s a significant step forward.”

There are at least 351 Ohio School Districts with starting salaries below $40K in Ohio, according to the OEA.

Shari Obrenski is the President of the Cleveland Teachers Union. She explained that starting salaries must be reflective of the amount of education required to obtain a degree.

“In order to be a teacher, you have to have a four-year college degree,” Obrenski said. “It’s very difficult to be competitive across the workforce with a starting salary of $30K.”

Obrenski explained that teachers often work 60-70 hours to balance their workloads, and in the summer, most young teachers are working second, or third jobs to make ends meet. She thinks raising the benchmark can help solve multiple issues in one swoop.

“A starting salary that is competitive will help us bring more people into the workforce,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of retention for the current workforce, because if more decide to leave, no amount of recruiting can fill that void.

“You look at the starting salary and no one looks at the salary progression,” she said. “We need to stay in this profession at least 35 years in order to achieve our full retirement. So, you need to have a competitive salary across that time period.”

DiMauro is still pushing for a $50K benchmark for teachers, because of the value they hold in our society, guiding students through a critical time in their upbringing.

He’s confident the proposal will move forward in the Statehouse.

“We’re confident that we have bipartisan support to make this happen,” DiMauro said.

Representative Lauren McNally, D-District 59, said the addition will survive a vote by the full House next week.

“I think raising the teachers’ salary is just step one of retaining teachers, of attracting teachers to teach in the state of Ohio and helping close the gap on the teacher shortage that we are desperately facing,” McNally said.

Although Governor Mike DeWine told reporters Thursday he believes teachers deserve good salaries, he admits he was not aware of the increase proposal.

House Bill 33 will establish operating appropriations for fiscal years 2024-2025 and was introduced on Feb. 15, 2023. No votes have been recorded for this legislation.

Gerry Ricciutti contributed to this report.