Teachers Lured From Struggling States
By Nathaniel Weixel, Special to Stateline
Debbie Johnson got her teaching degree from Michigan State University, but recruiters convinced the 23-year-old to start her career in Georgia, where the weather is warm, the cost of living is lower and the schools offer more resources, like projectors and interactive wireless pads.
"I like technology," Johnson said. "There are a lot of (classroom) resources here I hadn't seen in Michigan. There's an amazing opportunity."
Michigan is one of 31 states facing a multi-million budget gap this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That makes Michigan's teachers prime poaching targets of out-of-state recruiters from states like Texas, Georgia, Nevada and Wyoming where school-age populations are growing.
Even if teachers aren't yet being laid off, a tough economic climate is often enough to drive them away, said Kelly Herndon, director of recruitment and retention for Gwinnett County , Ga.
"I watch the markets," Herndon said. "I'll admit, if the economy is in bad shape, or the state legislature isn't managing funds, I focus on those states."
In some states, teachers are being let go because of shrinking budgets and shrinking school populations, including Michigan, Florida and California, which is facing a projected $15.2 billion deficit in 2009.
But one state's misfortune is an opportunity for others, like Nevada, which is also struggling with its budget, but relies heavily on recruiting out-of-state teachers to fill its classrooms. Last year for instance, only 676 new teachers came from Nevada schools, out of 2,750 hires, according to the Nevada Department of Education.
Most of the new recruits went to work in Clark County - the largest school district in the state and fifth largest in the nation - where growth in new teacher positions has far outpaced the number of locally educated teachers.
Emily Aguero, Clark County 's executive director of recruiting said she sends teams throughout the country, but concentrates more on states with financial troubles. "We target states where their economy is slowing down," Aguero said. "We sell how wonderful it is to teach in Nevada."
Another factor many recruiters consider in scouting for new hires is the quality of a state's teacher education programs. In a state with a strong reputation, like California, out-of-state recruiters might spend more money on advertising or making multiple recruiting trips.
Aguero said she's never experienced backlash from a state for luring its teachers away. Some states might put Nevada's booth in an unfavorable position at job fairs, but she said it's always been in a spirit of friendly competition.
"A lot of areas where there's a slow economy, they'd appreciate that we can give jobs to teachers," Aguero said.
But that's not the case for one California teachers' representative. Dennis Smith, secretary treasurer of the California Federation of Teachers, said he thinks that when states like Nevada poach California's teachers, they're taking advantage of the state's political problems.
"They're trying to capitalize on California's woes," Smith said. "It's harmful to California's future and economy." The blame for California's teacher exodus lies with the Legislature and its inability to pass a budget that would close the state's deficit, Smith said. The lawmakers' months-long impasse there has resulted in the longest overdue state budget in history.
As an educator, though, Smith said he knows there's not much he can do about it.
"We're doing what we can politically to educate the legislators of the problem," he said. "California's got itself backed into a corner. When schools are caught in the middle of a political football game, it's the students who are losing."
While the faltering economy in some states has refocused some efforts, out-of-state teacher recruitment has a long history.
Richard Kouri, public affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, said his state has been heavily recruiting for the past decade and will most likely continue for the next, mainly because of a rapidly growing student population.
On the east coast, Georgia is another state that relies heavily on out-of-state teachers. Rick Eiserman, director of policy and communication at the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, said about a quarter of the 15,000 new teacher hires come from other states.
Like Texas, Georgia's student population is growing, and Eiserman said the state needed to make their openings desirable to attract good candidates. One way was to raise teacher salaries, and Georgia's teachers now are some of the highest paid in the Southeast, Eiserman said.
Bobby Stevens, a consultant with the Metropolitan Regional Education Service Agency in Georgia, said new college graduates are easiest to recruit because they are more willing to move. MRESA, a state-funded consortium of 30 school districts that targets college seniors, has a limited budget, Stevens said, so the group tries to maximize its efforts.
"We target large state job fairs," Stevens said. "You want quantity before quality. If we drum up 100 candidates, it's up to the districts to sort them out. It's about where we can generate the most candidates for the districts to consider."
In tough economic times, Stevens said, recruiters look for former teachers who have been laid off from more lucrative jobs to return to a teaching career.
"We run counter to the economy," Stevens said. "When it's bad, recruitment is good."