Over one million students attend K-12 public schools in the state of Washington. Making sure each school and classroom has a qualified teacher increasingly is becoming a challenge for school districts. The Seattle Times writes that a combination of events, including the state legislature providing all-day kindergarten, teacher retirement and newer mandates such as reduced class size in grades K-3 have all added up to districts scrambling to find and keep highly-qualified teachers.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) says Washington needs about 10,000 more teachers to meet state mandates to reduce class sizes and provide full-day kindergarten.
What to do about it?
The Seattle Times editorial board suggests several policy fixes to help districts recruit and retain more teachers. They include:
- adopting OSPI’s recommendation to increase first-year salaries and offer signing bonuses of $10,000 for out-of-state teachers or $5,000 for teaching in rural or small districts
- make it easier for teachers from other states to transfer their licenses here
- set up an online system so that teachers can apply for jobs statewide (not just district-by-district)
- remove restrictions that keep retired teachers from working as substitutes
The way we recruit, retain and pay teachers in our state should reflect the realities of our changing schools, and in particular our changing demographics. Specifically, we should pay new teachers more. We should also increase pay for teachers who work in high-demand areas such as special education, math or science, as well as those who work in high-poverty or rural schools. We need a hiring system that makes it easier for interested applicants to apply, and that encourages out-of-state teachers to move here. Let’s hope school boards, school districts, the teachers union and the state legislature can continue to build on the momentum from significant investments in education made during the last legislative and address this pressing need.