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Ky. education leaders call for action on teacher shortage

J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Kentucky education leaders are warning of dire consequences if more isn’t done to address the growing teacher shortage.

Kentucky education leaders are warning of dire consequences if more isn’t done to address the growing teacher shortage.

Education officials say there are 11,000 unfilled teaching positions across Kentucky’s public schools. That’s in large part because there are so few young people entering the profession. Enrollment in the state’s teacher preparation programs fell from more than 12,000 students in 2011, to just 7,400 in 2019.

At the same time, leaders say more teachers are resigning to find higher-paying, less stressful careers.

At a news conference at the state Capitol Monday, Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Robbie Fletcher said districts are trying to find creative solutions, like sharing teachers of hard-to-staff subjects across school systems. But the shortage is getting so bad, he said, it could eventually force some districts to close.

“A sad day may be coming where we have to consolidate because we don’t have enough educators,” he said.

In addition to instructional staff shortages, districts are also struggling to find enough employees to drive school buses, clean buildings and manage facilities.

Fletcher is part of a statewide Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) Coalition to Sustain the Education Profession, a gathering of educators, politicians and business leaders focused on addressing the teacher shortage.

Fletcher said low pay is a major issue. Kentucky’s average teacher salary of $54,139 a year is 36th in the nation. The state is 44th in the nation for starting teacher pay, with the average first-year teacher making $37,373 a year.

The coalition is hoping lawmakers will look at increasing teacher salaries during next year’s budget session, Fletcher said. Until then the group is urging lawmakers to take smaller steps, like making it easier for teachers to get certified.

The coalition outlined nine recommendations that it says can be implemented at little or no cost to the state:

  • Conduct a comprehensive study of the current state of Kentucky education, including attitudes toward the teaching profession.
  • Make alternative teacher certifications more accessible.
  • Direct the Kentucky Department of Education to create a teacher recruitment web portal with all resources necessary to start a teaching career, and create a statewide teacher application system.
  • Encourage the Education Professional Standards Board to address issues that impede certification, like teacher testing admissions, state-to-state reciprocity and grade-level certification.
  • Approve legislation clarifying acceptable personal and professional educator behaviors and provide clear and appropriate penalties for violations.
  • Develop a marketing plan to communicate to all Kentucky audiences the impact and importance of Kentucky educators and public education.
  • Establish a tenure review committee to ensure there are “meaningful advancements” in compensation as teachers grow in their careers.
  • Provide funding to expand GoTeachKy, the state’s teacher recruitment arm.
  • Create and fund undergraduate teacher education scholarships for each Kentucky school district and create a $500 stipend for student teachers.

Gov. Andy Beshear urged lawmakers to take action sooner on the pay issue, noting that many Kentucky classrooms already lack a regular certified teacher.

“It is time that the state steps up and does more,” Beshear said during the news conference. “Every teacher is irreplaceable, and every time we lose one to some other opportunity that they likely take to better support their families, it’s our kids and our future that suffers.”

The Democratic governor pushed his “education first” plan, which calls for a 5% across-the-board salary supplement for all school-based staff and universal pre-K.

“We have never had as many available dollars as we do right now,” he said, referring to the record savings and budget surplus the state has banked over the last three years.

Joseph Carter, an 8th grade student at Second Street School in the Frankfort Independent School District, said the state needs to “compensate teachers fairly.”

“We deserve the brightest and best teachers who are also invested in our communities,” he said.

Makiya McNear, a senior at Frankfort High School, said she aspires to be a school counselor, but she wants to be paid fairly.

“Funding public education and compensating teachers at a level they deserve is what will keep future educators like myself in Kentucky,” she said.

Leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly, however,have said they don’t want to look at teacher raises or universal pre-K funding during this session.

But they’ve hinted at other legislation to address teacher shortages, though details are still unclear.

House Education Committee Chair James Tipton, a Republican from Taylorsville, said lawmakers will discuss the issue when they return to Frankfort next week.

“There’s no one answer as we look at this,” he said. Tipton is also a member of the KASA coalition.

“The governor mentioned, obviously funds and resources are an important part of this,” he said. But there are also issues with working conditions in schools, Tipton said, including “overwork burnout, additional duties and discipline issues.”

Tipton said the House Education Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 10 a.m. The main topic will be teacher retention and recruitment.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.
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