At the time of this writing, Idaho’s legislature and governor are poised to pass or have passed laws that will provide unprecedented benefits for Idaho’s educators. Bills to dramatically improve health insurance and teacher pay will, significantly improve the financial landscape for educators. However, it is vital that we see these much-appreciated enhancements NOT as extravagant luxuries, but rather as urgent necessities.
The reason? Idaho is educating more and more students—while there are fewer and fewer teachers. The logical outcomes are larger class sizes and fewer course offerings.
The numbers are fairly simple and very concerning. We often speak of the “teacher pipeline”—the process by which college students move from declaring a major in education to entering Idaho classrooms as qualified teachers. Unfortunately, the flow from the teacher pipeline has dwindled to a trickle. In 2006 the Idaho State Department of Education granted 6,024 initial teacher certificates; fifteen years later that number is 2,333—a 61% DECREASE. During that same time frame, Idaho’s K-12 student enrollment grew from 261,907 to 310,653—a 19% INCREASE!
Need more proof that there is a problem? Idaho’s public universities have seen a dramatic drop in the numbers of students enrolled in their teacher education programs. In the last ten years, education completer numbers have dropped from 925 to 567. That’s a 39% drop in potential new teachers! And those graduates can easily take their diplomas to other states that pay more or that have better benefits or that are more teacher-friendly or all of the above.
National news reports frequently highlight current teacher shortages across the country and there are predictions of worsening shortages in the future. Surveys show that alarming numbers of teachers plan to leave the profession or retire early, for a variety of reasons that include salaries, benefits, stress, burnout, effects of the pandemic, endemic criticisms and feelings that their work is not valued.
Idaho must do everything possible to keep the teachers we do have in this state, and recruit more. Making education a desirable career choice for Idahoans involves creating a culture of learning that focuses on the needs of Idaho children, rids the state of divisive phantoms, and highlights the achievements of our students and their teachers. This year’s proposed salary and benefit enhancements are a good start—but they’re only the beginning.