Improve retention and recruitment to address teacher shortage, Kentucky school leaders say

Lawrence County superintendent says teacher shortage could soon force school consolidations

by McKenna Horsley, Kentucky Lantern

Kentucky school officials say more study of the state’s public education system is needed to address the teacher shortage. 

Kentucky had 11,000 teacher vacancies near the end of last year.

The Coalition to Sustain the Education Profession, a group established last year by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, on Monday unveiled its recommendations, including gathering data and information, during a news conference with administrators, students, state House Education Chair Rep. James Tipton, Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jaqueline Coleman. 

Robbie Fletcher, the superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, said school administrators often have zero certified applicants for vacant positions. Some school districts are sharing teachers to cover some academic subjects.

“The sad day may be coming where we have to consolidate (schools) because we don’t have enough educators. It could be very soon,” Fletcher said. 

The recommendations included: 

Conduct a comprehensive study of the state of Kentucky education.Address teacher certification and qualification issues that impede teacher recruitment.Analyze financial incentives to aid in statewide recruiting and retention efforts.Create a legislative mandate to bring together data, programs, and processes across disparate agencies and organizations to create a single “Be a Kentucky Teacher” portal for teacher preparation, recruitment and application.Mandate that every school district implement a teacher recruitment and induction system and provide noncompetitive grant funding to support the effort.Develop a marketing plan to communicate to all Kentucky audiences the impact and importance of Kentucky educators and public education. 

The coalition’s membership includes educators, business leaders and nonprofit and association leaders, state legislators and Kentucky executive branch members. Three work groups, led by a steering committee, focused on areas of retention, recruitment and marketing. 

Rhonda Caldwell, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA), said that failing to act now could have “cascading effects” beyond education. The coalition was created to bring multiple partners to the table and address the “educator workforce crisis.”

Beshear is asking the Generl Assembly to support his Education First Plan in response to the teacher shortage and to address learning loss students experienced during the coronavirus pandemic. It calls for funding a 5% pay raise for all public school employees on top of some recent raises school districts allocated. Beshear also is proposing universal pre-K and social and mental health services. 

The legislature’s Republican leaders have expressed opposition to opening the state budget for major revisions in this year’s 30-day regular session. Kentucky adopts two-year budgets in even numbered years when the legislature convenes for 60 days, although Republicans are willing to open the budget this session to provide funds for a veterans center in Bowling Green.

In recent weeks, the governor has visited public schools in the state to showcase his plan for teachers and students. The first stop was at Eastern High School in Louisville. On Monday afternoon, Beshear was set to appear at Boyd County High School in Ashland. 

Providing more funding for these resources would help with teacher retention and be an investment in students, the governor said. 

“Listen, it doesn’t matter if it’s a long session or a short session. Our kids are worth us having the courage to take the actions that are necessary and our teachers deserve so much more. All of our educators, everyone in that public school building, with the heroic efforts that they have engaged in, deserve better from us,” Beshear said. 

There is not a single answer,  said Tipton, R-Taylorsville. He added that Kentucky’s teacher shortage is related to a general workforce issue. Employers across the state are facing difficulties in hiring workers. Other challenges facing teachers include burnout and student discipline. Not all solutions may come during the current legislative session, Tipton said, but consensus on areas that must be addressed is needed.

“If we are going to have that trained workforce for the future, for those good paying jobs that are coming to Kentucky, it’s going to require a quality teacher and classroom for our students across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Next week, the House Education Committee will discuss the teacher shortage. Tipton said topics will include how to improve retention and recruitment. He added that he plans to file legislation when lawmakers return to Frankfort. 

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