By RICHIE MALOUF
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) — A House appropriations subcommittee met this week to conduct a hearing regarding America’s teacher shortage in special needs and other subject areas.
“In the 2017-2018 school year, nearly every state, including my home state of Connecticut, experienced teacher shortages in high need subjects and in special education,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “In that same year, more than 100,000 teaching positions around the country were vacant or staffed by people unqualified for the job.”
“We must consider the funding and policies necessary to help increase recruitment and retention, improve working conditions, and support teacher advancement,” she added.
School districts are having a particularly rough time maintaining their special education staff.
Jane West, an education expert who testified at the hearing, said “98% of school districts report special education shortages.”
“I urge the subcommittee to provide greater investments in the personnel preparation program under IDEA, the teacher quality partnership grants, and the Hawkins Centers for excellence programs,” she said. “In summary, students with disabilities need access to a well prepared, diverse, experienced, and stable educator workforce. A greater investment in these programs is needed.”
Other witnesses also stressed the need for increased public funding for teachers and attempts at diversification.
“Right now in Wisconsin, the starting teacher’s salary that I could look up, so this might be a couple years old, was $26,535, which is in the lowest 25th percentile,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.
“I have fast food restaurants advertising $17 to $20 an hour. If you’re equating teaching with a fast food job, certainly you’re not gonna have a lot of people, um, perhaps looking at that as a career path,” he added.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, disagreed with increasing teachers’ pay at the federal level and said that it should be addressed at the state level instead. He said teachers’ starting pay differs from state to state so there is no need for the federal government to get involved.
After the shift back to in-person learning after two years of online classes initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers and students have not yet returned to the classroom.
Both state and federal legislators continue to work on efforts to incentivize young adults to take the career path of becoming public school teachers and retain them as such.
The hearing comes at a time when parents are beginning to seriously consider whether sending their children to public school is their best option.