Recruiting and hiring high-quality teachers is one of the most important jobs a school district has. And while many districts continue to struggle to fill high-demand teaching positions in specific areas, such as special education, math or science, two items of note show the state is starting to turn the corner when it comes to staffing our schools and classrooms.
Thousands more teachers hired – A new report from the State Senate’s Ways & Means Chair, Sen. John Braun (Centralia), shows that since 2012, the state has added an average of 1,508 new teachers per year since 2012, for a total of just over 6,000 teachers. Looking at long-term trends, over the past four years the rate of hiring has increased significantly, with more classroom teachers added during that time than in the previous 12 years combined. And while each school and school district make staffing decisions based on local needs (and some state mandates), overall the increase in teacher hiring has translated into lower student-to-teacher ratios. According to the same Senate report, as of this past school year (2016-17), the statewide ratio was 1 teacher for every 17.9 students.
Moving forward, the recently enacted 2017-19 state budget includes investments to hire approximately 2,400 more teachers. While it is up to districts to decide at the local level how to allocate money from Olympia, the legislature has made a clear commitment in the state budget to hiring more educators.
Leveraging experienced staff already in schools – a new state law enacted in the 2017 legislative session could help address the shortage in special education teachers by providing an alternative path to teacher certification for para-educators already working with students with disabilities. Neal Morton of The Seattle Times reports the legislation provides a simpler path to teacher certification for some experienced para-educators, which allows school districts to tap into a “deep recruiting pool of thousands of educators who already work with special-needs and other at-risk students.” The bill also provides more training to current para-educators.
According to data in the bill’s language, para-educators provide over 60 percent of instruction to students who either have a disability, are learning English, or are from low-income families. Read more about the new law and how it can help address some teacher shortages, here.
What else could help? – Better pay for teachers in science, math and special education, and for those working in schools with significant number of students living in poverty is one approach consistently cited by policy experts as key. But a recent report suggests that states like Washington are unlikely to see meaningful pay differentiation among teachers anytime soon because of the strong political presence of the state teachers’ union and their commitment to collectively-bargained wages based mostly on seat time and paper credentials and less on expertise in high-demand areas.