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Western Ky. school districts feeling effects of statewide teacher shortage

Liam Niemeyer

Roughly one out of every six Kentucky teachers leaves the education industry every year, according to statistics recently shared by Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass.

This churn of education professionals has many school districts feeling the stress of a statewide teacher shortage as some local superintendents say they’ve seen a decline in applicants for teacher positions.

Glass spoke to lawmakers in June, reporting:

  • Kentucky’s teacher turnover rate is around 17% and has been since 2017. This is slightly higher than the national turnover rate of 16%.
  • Job postings for teachers have increased every year since 2015, but, on average, only an estimated 83.5% of those posting are being filled.
  • And since 2015, Kentucky has been experiencing an increase in the number of emergency certifications issued. Glass said the reliance on emergency certifications is “a clear indication that we have a rising problem in the workforce in Kentucky,”

Some educators think the state’s teacher shortage is the fallout of political upheaval following conversations surrounding teacher’s pensions and salary and the politicization of the teaching profession. There’s also has been an increasing concern that post-secondary institutions are seeing lower enrollment for individuals looking to join the education field. And all of these issues have only beenexacerbated by the pandemic.

David Whaley, the dean of the college of education at Murray State University, thinks fewer new teachers are coming out of higher education because Kentucky is underpaying teachers when compared to other states.

“For teachers, the starting salary for teachers in Kentucky is about $36,000. And the average salary for all teachers in the States, I believe [is] $53,000,” Whaley said. “So when we go and talk to prospective teacher candidates, … we also get into talking about salaries, and they hear about a starting salary of $36,000. That's an impediment.”

Glass also gave lawmakers the Kentucky Department of Education’s list of recommendations on how to combat the teacher shortage.

Some short-term solutions, Glass said, could include creating scholarship opportunities for students involved in the Educators Rising program, increasing funding for teachers seeking a National Board Certification, and investments into the GoTeachKY marketing plan, among other initiatives.

Possible long-term suggestions were creating alternative licensure exam opportunities, supporting the development of recruitment and retention plans for districts, and providing “professional and livable wages” for Kentucky’s educators.

In the meantime, school districts across the state are having to deal with the consequences of a limited workforce.

Superintendents from two western Kentucky school districts say the state’s teacher shortage impacts the number of applicants they receive but has no effect on the classroom.

“The primary way that [the teacher shortage] is impacting our district is we are not seeing the number of applicants come in … as high as what they would have come in, in previous years,” Graves County Superintendent Matthew Madding said. “Our applicant pool is just much smaller.”

Madding said the problem is not new but it’s worse now than it’s ever been. The Graves superintendent said the current state of affairs is the culmination of years of decline for the teaching profession.

When parents hear about teacher shortages in the district they might assume classrooms are going empty, but Madding says that’s not the case.

“From a student’s perspective, from a parent's perspective, class sizes in Graves County schools are going to be the same, and I think almost every district around here would be able to say that same thing.”

Ballard County Superintendent Casey Allen said his district, while smaller in comparison to Graves County, has also been feeling the pressure of the teacher shortage.

“There's a market decrease in options for teachers,” Allen said, “But, we don't necessarily have a shortage in the sense that we feel like we have classrooms that are vacant.”

Allen said that in the last few years he’s seen more teachers come and go than ever in his 12-year stint as superintendent. He estimates that in the last year his county’s turnover rate could be as high as 20% when taking into account those that leave for jobs in other nearby school districts.

“Larger districts with a larger tax base pay their teachers more. So, smaller rural school districts are always looking for teachers because our staff, once they get a little bit of experience and a little bit of training, may leave us to go to a higher paying district,” Allen said.

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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