Back To School Time Brings Frantic Search For Teachers
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
As public schools open for the 1999-2000 academic year, a shortage of teachers is causing big problems in Texas, California and other states. Behimd the shortage is an aging teaching force, an exploding school-age population, more economic opportunities for women and unattractive salaries for math, science and computer experts who can command higher pay elsewhere.
Texas tops the list of states where the shortage is acute. The state's teacher certification agency says there are approximately 40,000 vacant teaching positions this year. But students will not be sitting idle; some school districts will fill the vacancies by giving new hires emergency teaching credentials.
Other school districts hope to recruit instructors by offering financial incentives. Waco for instance, is offering a $4,000 bonus for math teachers, according to the Texas State Board for Teacher Certification.
The teacher drought that Texas is experiencing is almost as bad in California, according to Darrell Capwell of the American Federation of Teachers. The teachers' union spokesman says nearly every other state except Kentucky and Pennsylvania also has a problem.
Capwell said Kentucky and Pennsylvania were not doing anything differently from other states, and was at a loss to explain why they seemed immune from the problem.
The shortage of teachers comes at a time when poll after poll shows that better schools are the number one priority for American voters, and it is forcing states and school districts to innovate.
In South Carolina, lawmakers have loosened budget strings to allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without having to sacrifice pension benefits.
A Georgia school district is opening a child-care center for teachers this fall. Officials set up the on-site center for 250 employees in the hopes that it will entice teachers with young children to stay on the job, according to Education Week.
Maryland is so desperate for teachers it is recruiting people who are not professional educators. The state is looking for college graduates and midlife career-switchers who may have good subject knowledge but no formal education training.
Mississippi is trying to lure teachers to relocate to school districts where there are teacher shortages by promising to pay moving expenses. The state is also giving teachers scholarships to become nationally certified.
In the South and West, where teacher shortages are most severe, the problem could get worse before it gets better. The U.S. Department of Education expects that between now and 2009, these regions will continue to see what DOE calls the baby boom echo, or a thriving student population.
In the next ten years, Texas will educate an additional 316,000 kids and California another 428,000 students.
California compounded its shortage problem by legislating smaller class-sizes just when the teacher scarcity dawned.
Under former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, California passed legislation to decrease the average class size from 28 to 20 students in grades K-3. Since then the state has talked about expanding the program to other grades, but a shortage of qualified teachers and facilities have stymied the plan.
When the California law was first passed, roughly 18,400 new teachers were hired to bring the ratio down to one teacher per 20 students. Later, a legislative study found that many of those teachers were less qualified than previous hires.