What can be done about Kentucky’s teacher shortage? Lawmakers hope to find answers

Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

The long-standing educator shortage in Kentucky was the focus of a House Education committee hearing on the first day lawmakers returned to Frankfort for the General Assembly session.

Republican House Education Chairman James A. Tipton said no votes or decisions would be made Tuesday. Educators from offices and schools across the state were invited to testify about the teacher shortage and what can be done to combat it.

“We know that districts across the commonwealth are facing a shortage in teachers, but we’re hearing conflicting reports about not only the scope of the problem but the causes,” Tipton said in a Monday afternoon news release about the meeting. “This is an opportunity for committee members and the public to clear up some confusion so we can target areas for improvement.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass, in talking about the shortage at Tuesday’s legislative meeting, said that his wife was a teacher in Fayette County and other relatives were or had been teachers in Kentucky.

He said most educators in the state were Kentucky natives who have been trained in Kentucky.

In a Monday message to state education officials about the meeting, Glass said that for nearly a decade, education officials have been seeing a decline in the number of people entering teacher education programs in colleges and universities in Kentucky and across the nation.

“While there have been some notable successes — for example, the University of Kentucky has recently experienced an increase in both the number and diversity of people entering their teacher preparation program — the overall effect has been fewer new teacher candidates when jobs are posted,” he said.

Glass said Tuesday the teacher turnover rate also has been growing on an almost yearly basis.

During the 2017-2018 school year, 17% of Kentucky teachers left the teaching position they held the previous year. By 2021-2022, that number had grown to 20.4%, he said.

“While we can’t say for sure why so many of our teachers are leaving their classrooms, we know they are more stressed,” said Glass.

According to the 2022 Impact Kentucky working conditions survey, teachers are reporting increased stress for themselves and concern for their colleagues, along with reduced job satisfaction.

The number of critical shortage areas are seeing a marked increase including social studies, elementary education and early childhood education. The shortages are showing up in all parts of Kentucky, and the number of candidates are holding steady, he said.

School districts have to be less choosy when hiring, Glass said, and some districts are lucky to get one job candidate.

To help fill these open teaching positions, state officials are relying on more emergency certificates.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, the Education Professional Standards Board granted 383 one-year emergency certificates. This year, EPSB approved 1,156 emergency certificates — a more than a 200% increase.

Those teachers are less qualified than the teachers in those roles in past, he said. Out of field teachers are negatively related to student achievement, including in mathematics, said Glass.

“There are good reasons to be concerned about the state of the teaching profession,” Glass told lawmakers.

A bright spot is the increased enrollment in both the Teaching and Learning career pathway and the Educator Rising career and technical student organization, Glass said Tuesday.

Glass said those programs create authentic experiences that engage students in effective teaching practices and connect rising educators to a statewide community of in-service practitioners.

Current enrollment in the Teaching and Learning Pathway is more than 2,000 students and there are now 102 Educators Rising chapters across the state, he said.

“If we work on increasing total compensation, support and respect for our educators, I believe we can begin turning the tide on this difficult issue,” Glass told lawmakers. “We need solutions at the scale of the problem.”

Amanda Sewell, a classroom teacher at Fayette County Schools, told lawmakers they should be leaders in a marketing campaign to get more teachers in Kentucky classrooms. She said lawmakers should show that they respect the teaching profession. That’s how the teacher shortage could end, she said.

Members of the Kentucky Association of School Administrator’s Coalition to Sustain the Education Profession offered several recommendations, including funding a model teacher recruitment program and an undergrad teacher education scholarship per school district.

Tipton asked Glass to discuss the reported 11,000 certified educator vacancies in Kentucky. It is a number that Gov. Andy Beshear has referenced when discussing the issue.

A total of 10,816 teacher positions were posted in the Kentucky Educator Placement System (KEPS) for the 2021-2022 school year, a spokesperson in Beshear’s office recently told the Herald-Leader.

Glass told lawmakers that the placement system captures certified educator’s vacancies. It is not a good measure of classroom teacher openings, but its a good measure of certified openings, he said.

It’s also not a good “point in time” measure, he said. The 10,816 number represents the total number of openings over an entire year, not the number of openings at any one time.

But he said the 10,816 is more than Kentucky has had in the past.

Beau Barnes, deputy executive secretary of the Teacher’s Retirement System, testified Tuesday that according to data from fiscal year 2022, educator retirements have been relatively stable since 2009.

This is a developing story and will be updated.