Professor: Teacher shortage forces schools to scramble

With a pivotal hearing on teacher pay looming on the horizon, the Senate Education Committee heard a sobering report Monday: Idaho school districts are facing a serious teacher shortage.

The shortage is serious enough that districts are struggling to find qualified staff. Of 65 districts surveyed, only 10 districts were able to hire fully qualified or certified teachers for positions, said Patti Mortensen, an assistant professor at Idaho State University’s College of Education.

It’s an “alarming” statistic, Mortensen told senators, because administrators and other faculty members are forced to take on additional duties.

The faculty shortage — in disciplines such as math, science and special education — forces districts to cut corners. According to Mortensen’s research:

  • Twenty-seven of 54 districts left positions unfilled and increased class size.
  • Twenty-two of 55 districts cancelled classes or programs.
  • Twenty-three of 55 districts started the school year with a substitute teacher, while hoping to make a permanent hire.
  • Thirty-one of 58 teachers worked to hire student teachers.

There is no one solution to the shortage, Mortensen said, and all the potential options will take time and resources. Teacher pay, specifically entry-level pay, is a recurring theme in the national research, she said.

On Tuesday morning, the House Education Committee will take up a proposed career ladder designed to increase salaries for starting teachers and veteran instructors. For example, the bill would boost starting pay to $37,000 by 2019-20; the current minimum is $31,750.

The $125.6 million bill faces an uncertain fate; several committee members aren’t sure the plan has the votes needed to get out of committee. The Idaho Education Association opposes the proposal, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

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