Community Renewal Task Force Co-Chair Missouri Governor Mike Parson, hosted a virtual session focused on the state of the educator workforce as states and territories prepare for the 2022-2023 school year.
by Tim Carlton
Beginning next month, students across the country will return to school for the 2022-2023 school year. When they do, they will be greeted by teachers eager to teach and equip them with the tools and education required to succeed in the classroom and in life. This will only happen, however, if schools have the teachers necessary to fill vacancies that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understanding the importance of ensuring every student has a great teacher, on July 7, the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Community Renewal Task Force held a virtual meeting on the state of the educator workforce, focusing on actionable solutions that Governors can take now to address teacher shortages in both the near- and long-term. Task Force Co-Chair Missouri Governor Mike Parson led a vibrant discussion alongside Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Dr. Penny Schwinn; President and CEO of the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), Dr. Lynn Gangone; and Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education, Roberto Rodriguez.
Governor Parson kicked off the discussion by acknowledging the reality that many professions face shortages right now. “All across the country, we are experiencing labor shortages in many professions, and that includes our teachers,” Governor Parson said. “While shortages are concerning in any profession, it is particularly so in our elementary and secondary schools. These shortages threaten to disrupt the educational services provided to our children and families. We appreciate the opportunity for this important panelist discussion to identify steps that can be taken to better recruit and retain the educator workforce and ensure the health and academic well-being of our children.”
Governor Parson pointed to a recent initiative in Missouri that aims to increase new teacher salaries by as much as $13,000 in some localities, a partnership that requires an opt-in by local school districts. In addition to this critical initiative to raise teacher pay, Governor Parson also highlighted Missouri’s investment of over $50 million for teacher workforce development and Grow Your Own programs, an investment that seeks to ensure Missouri can recruit and retain high quality teachers, both now and into the future.
A similar type of investment is what helped Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner of Education Dr. Penny Schwinn launch the first-of-its kind Teacher Registered Apprenticeship program in the State of Tennessee. Commissioner Schwinn pointed to the Teacher Registered Apprenticeship as a new model for teacher workforce development, saying, “What this does is remove financial barriers. So now in Tennessee, we like to say you can become a teacher for free and get paid to do so, because as an apprentice, it covers your tuition, your books and materials, but it also pays you a living wage that increases year over year.” By removing financial barriers to becoming a teacher, Tennessee hopes to make a significant dent in the more than 1,000 teacher vacancies, according to Commissioner Schwinn.
Dr. Gangone, President and CEO of AACTE, cited the fact that Tennessee’s Teacher Registered Apprenticeship is done in partnership with institutions of higher education in Tennessee, ensuring Tennessee’s program is both affordable and of high quality. She noted that these partnerships with higher education and colleges of teacher education are critical to ensure Teacher Registered Apprenticeship programs maintain high quality standards so that students learn from the best.
In addition to talking about the work being done in Tennessee, Dr. Gangone also highlighted initiatives in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states across the country where colleges and universities are investing significant resources to make sure the teacher pipeline is robust and that the teaching profession is more accessible. When combined with federal student aid, these state initiatives are powerful tools to increase access to the teaching profession, which in turn diversifies the pool of teaching candidates coming out of colleges of education, according to Dr. Gangone. “The capacity that we have to build state support and federal support in financial aid is absolutely essential,” said Dr. Gangone, when asked about how to best diversify the teacher workforce to better reflect a school’s demographics.
Building on what Commissioner Schwinn and Dr. Gangone discussed, Assistant Secretary Rodriguez demonstrated the importance of the full continuum of supports necessary to uplift current teachers and develop teachers for the future.
On teacher pay, Assistant Secretary Rodriguez cited the financial challenges even some mid-level teachers have, as teachers make approximately 82 cents on the dollar relative to their college educated peers, a figure that varies by state and locality. He also showed that the issue of teacher shortages is not new but has been exacerbated by the pandemic, citing the fact that, “In the ten-years leading up to the pandemic, we saw 900,000 fewer teacher candidates in our programs.” Referencing work the Biden-Harris Administration is doing to support teachers, Assistant Secretary Rodriguez cited the $122 billion for elementary and secondary schools in the American Rescue Plan Act which can be used by states and Governors to support the teacher workforce. He also touched on ongoing efforts by the Department of Education to streamline Public Service Loan Forgiveness and make it easier for teachers and other public servants to obtain forgiveness on their student loans.
In his closing remarks, Assistant Secretary Rodriguez honed in on the importance of supporting teachers and teacher development, noting how supporting teacher development opportunities is a uniting issue across the board. “It’s not about a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s not about an approach for red states or blue states, or for rural areas or urban areas. This is about our country,” said Assistant Secretary Rodriguez. He continued, saying, “The future of our country is being decided every day in our classrooms, and it’s our responsibility, our collective call, to provide a great teacher for every single one of our learners and students. It’s the best thing we can do for their individual future and for our collective future as a democracy.”
Governors across the country are committed to supporting current teachers and growing the pipeline to make the teaching profession more accessible, so that all students can learn from a great teacher. They are doing so in many of the ways discussed during the Task Force meeting, but also in ways not covered in the meeting. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently signed the state budget, which included $10,000 in tuition assistance for 2,500 future educators every year and offers a stipend of $9,600 per semester for student teachers. In Montana, Governor Greg Gianforte is encouraging Montana’s Board of Public Education to enter into multi-state reciprocity agreements with states that have similar licensing standards in an effort to recruit high quality teachers to teach in Montana. These are just a few of the many examples in which Governors are leading on this issue and getting creative to support their teacher workforce and, by extension, their students.