Kansas public universities finalizing plan in response to shortage of K-12 teachers

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K-12 vacancies in 2022 topped 1,600 due to low wages, COVID-19 and retirements

TOPEKA — Education deans at public universities in Kansas working on solutions to a K-12 teacher shortage want to dramatically expand over three years state financial aid for college students in education programs and to implement a partnership to uniformly compensate student teachers.

The task force appointed by the Kansas Board of Regents has also been working to refine an agreement among community colleges and universities allowing education students to automatically transfer 60 credit hours of courses. Another of 15 recommendations in the report draft would strengthen literacy instructional skills of teachers.

“I like that we’re responsive to what’s going on, even when people aren’t banging on our door to come up with solutions,” said Board of Regents chairman Jon Rolph of Wichita.

Rick Ginsburg, dean of education at the University of Kansas, said Kansas was experiencing teacher shortage issues present nationally. A federal report said 53% of public schools were understaffed in the current academic year. A National Education Association survey in 2022 found 55% of teachers had given thought to a career change. In 2019, a Phi Delta Kappa poll showed 55% of teachers didn’t want their children to follow them into teaching.

Ginsburg said retirements had been expected to rise, but COVID-19 accelerated the trend. The Kansas Department of Education reported 1,620 teacher vacancies in fall 2022, with the greatest gaps in special education, elementary education, English language arts, math and science. There are 44,000 licensed teachers in Kansas’ workforce, but more than 75,000 licensees in the KSDE data base.

“Part of the problem is our salaries in education stink,” Ginsburg said. “Add to that a public that is rather critical, the burning books, the dictating of curriculum. What you end up with is something that is awfully challenging. The question is: Why might young people consider going into our profession?”

Priority ideas

The task force of faculty from Kansas State University, Wichita State University and five other public universities intend to urge the Board of Regents and state Board of Education to lobby the Legislature for financial support necessary to reverse the 7.5% decline since 2015 in Kansas teacher education enrollment. Nationally, enrollment in teacher education fell one-third from 2010 to 2019.

Under the tentative blueprint, state appropriations to the state’s Teacher Education Competitive Grant program would rise from $2.8 million to $6 million in the first year, $12 million the second year and $20 million the third year. Until this year, the program received $1.4 million annually from the Legislature.

The proposal would elevate the per-student grant cap to $6,000 annually. Grants would be available to undergraduate students for four years with a maximum subsidy of $24,000. Graduate students could received aid for two years for a maximum payment of $12,000. Current requirements linking grants to underserved geographic areas and to hard-to-fill teaching disciplines would be lifted.

The task force intends to recommend student teachers, who often work in classrooms for free while paying college tuition, be eligible for up to $5,000 in compensation. Districts would have the option of participating in a $6.7 million program requiring the state to pay 75% of a student teacher’s salary with the school district paying the remainder.

One calculation of the “teacher wage penalty” indicated a Kansas educator could expect to earn 23% less than a college graduate in another field with comparable job experience. The starting salary for a public school teacher in Kansas is about $40,000, which is below the national average.

“I see these problems, these issues every day,” said Board of Regents member Diana Mendoza, director of English as a second language and diversity programs in Dodge City public schools. “They’ve been there for many years. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”

Additional proposals

The task force suggested the Board of Regents and the Department of Education create a universal set of 60 credit hours applicable to an elementary education degree. Making that deal would ease transfer of community college students to four-year universities. Stumbling blocks include distinctions among universities in terms of what year classes were offered and with alignment of university accreditation mandates.

In addition, the task force was moving toward elevating the profile of basic college instruction and supplemental certificate programs in literacy. The goal would be to amend preparation standards so new educators were ready to teach literacy their first day on the job.

The limit of 120 college credit hours required of Kansas teachers wouldn’t be changed. If literacy courses were added to the curriculum, something would need to be dropped. Educators earning a literacy credential should receive a bump in salary, the task force said.

“They should get paid more for that,” said Ginsburg, the KU education dean. “We tend not to do that in the education world. It’s dumb. They do it in most other fields.”

Financial support of about $450,000 per year would be available to help Kansas students pay for licensing examinations, the task force said.

A workforce expansion proposal would dedicate $5 million in annual grants to support innovative approaches to teacher licensure. The strategy for attracting more people to teaching careers could emphasize fast-track degrees and graduate degrees in disciplines with critical shortages.

“With COVID, a lot of kids didn’t get to go to college in 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t taking a (enrollment) hit again,” said Ann Mah, a member of the Kansas Board of Education.

The Department of Education would be asked to take responsibility for a registered apprenticeship program in which school district employees could be placed on a path to teacher licensure.

In terms of teacher retention, the task force weighed the idea of a $3 million mentoring program. It would be a collaboration of the Board of Regents and Department of Education. The task force suggested adjusting standardized student assessments that cut into instructional time.

The task force said Kansas needed reciprocity agreements with states advancing “equally robust expectations” so licensed educators could take jobs in Kansas without significant additional cost. In addition, the task force said, consideration should be given to modifying rules that deter retirees in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System from returning to the classroom.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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