The national teacher shortages is at an all-time high, and lawmakers are looking for solutions on the federal level and in state legislatures across the country. In the 116th Congress, lawmakers have offered several solutions to the teacher shortage problem, such as providing incentives for teachers in rural (S. 1157) or reservation (S. 1161) schools or establishing award grants for local education agencies to expand various training, recruitment, and retention programs (S.2367). State legislatures are also active on this issue. In 2019, 43 states passed bills that addressed teacher shortages, teacher licensure requirements, or alternative routes to licensure.
Given the shortages that exist in many communities, particularly within urban, rural, high-poverty, and high-minority schools, as well as within specific subject areas, such as STEM and special education. As such, states are generally look at four policy levers to address teacher shortage.
Removing Barriers to Entry
A number of states have attempted to increase the pool of teacher candidates by eliminating or altering steps in the licensure process. For example, in 2019, Florida modified requirements surrounding the General Knowledge test (known as the “GK”), which is the basic skills test all teacher candidates are required to pass. Among other changes, teachers going through an alternative certification route—meaning they are already teaching in the classroom—now have up to two additional years to pass the GK. Meanwhile, Illinois recently eliminated their basic skills test altogether. Other states are making it easier to recruit out-of-state teachers by expanding reciprocity agreements for licensure. For example, Virginia passed a law in 2019 that gives teachers with a valid out-of-state license reciprocity without have to pass additional licensing assessments.
Creating Career Pathways
Another trend among states is creating what has become known as “career pathways” to encourage new talent into the pipeline or to help retain the best teachers by expanding their professional opportunities. For instance, lawmakers in Kansas have created two pilot initiatives to help fill open teaching positions, including a “fast-track” option for paraprofessionals to become special education teachers. In 2018, Illinois created and funded a program to recruit bilingual high school students to become bilingual teachers and counselors. On the other end of the spectrum, some states have allowed retired teachers to return to the classroom while still receiving full benefits.
Providing Financial Incentives
By far the most popular recruitment tool--but also the most challenging to fund--is increasing base pay for teachers. In February of 2019, EdWeek reported that 22 governors discussed raising teacher pay in their State of the State addresses. Arkansas lawmakers passed the “Teacher Salary Enhancement Act,” which increases the minimum teacher salary by $1,000 over the next four years, from $31,400 to $36,000. Texas significantly increased funding for teacher salaries in 2019, with estimates that veteran teachers could get raises of up to $4000, depending on the district. Earlier this month, Florida’s governor announced his proposal to raise starting salaries to $47,500, which would make Florida one of top states for starting salary in the nation. If funded, it would likely replace Florida’s “Best & Brightest” program, which currently provides $2000 bonuses to all teachers, at a total cost of $480 million.
Creating Alternative Routes to Licensure
States are also creating alternate routes to licensure to address teacher shortages. Recognizing that prerequisites to become a licensed teacher may prohibit individuals looking to switch careers to become teachers, Virginia passed a law in 2019 that directs the Board of Education to provide a new alternative route to licensure for elementary preK-6 and special education general curriculum licensure. Importantly, the candidate must still meet the qualifying scores on the professional teacher’s assessment, but by allowing an alternate route to licensure, Virginia hopes to see an increase in qualified licensed teachers.
“Teacher shortage is a real issue across the country which is paving the way for updated policies on how to systemically address it. Our goal has been to work with policymakers to attract, retain, and grow the pipeline of qualified teachers through the entire certification process while meeting the needs of each state. That means working closely with candidates, school districts, human resource professionals, and campus principals to meet the demands of their classrooms.”