Across Kansas, school districts are about to begin their year missing a critical ingredient: teachers. That’s the message from reporting last week by The Hutchinson News’ Mary Clarkin, who found multiple districts struggling to fill classroom slots.

Kindergarten teachers. Social studies teachers. And not just educators. As Clarkin writes, “Districts are seeking school bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals, psychologists, librarians — and more.”

The reasons for the vacancies are many, but the two biggest ones are also the most difficult to change on a local or state level

One, the national and state labor markets are strong, meaning that most people who want jobs can find them. That makes attracting qualified talent difficult, especially if the pay is modest — as can be the case for non-teaching positions at schools.

Two, rural Kansas is facing a long-term, secular decline. Young people are leaving and businesses are closing. Persuading a fresh college graduate to accept a job in a rural community can be a tough sell if the community itself seems to be withering. Heroic efforts are underway to revitalize rural communities, but the work will likely take many years, with an uncertain outcome.

Teacher pay is, thankfully, less of an issue than it once was. The state has recommitted to fully funding education, and recent cash infusions mean that districts are able to offer improved salaries. But improved doesn’t necessarily mean high-paying.

We can approach the issue from many angles. But any solution means making Kansas communities attractive places for people and their families to live.

A connected world once promised to make working from anywhere a possibility. What it has meant in reality is a greater concentration of the brightest and most ambitious in a select few urban clusters. This has even happened in Kansas, with the northeast section growing much more quickly than the rest of the state.

The threat is existential to the rural areas, small towns and even modest cities that dominate so much of the area of this state. After all, you can’t hire teachers if there are no children to teach. All of these communities, working together with state leaders, must make sure that they do everything they can to bring in families and teachers.

It’s salary, yes. But it’s also welcoming attitudes and tolerance of diversity. It’s thriving arts and culture scenes. It’s affordable, quality housing. And it’s leadership that is willing to take risks to make sure that our schools and towns thrive for generation upon generation to come.