PEBC in The Denver Post and Denver Business Journal - PEBC

PEBC in The Denver Post and Denver Business Journal

Katie Wood, The Denver Post

Teacher Mandy Rees talks to her middle school students at Bruce Randolph School on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Students from the school tweeted messages to U.S. President Donald Trump about how their friends and families make America great.

Starting teacher-cadet programs at local schools, forgiving student loans and offering livable wages in rural areas are all ideas being touted by a state education task force aimed at getting more teachers into Colorado’s far-flung classrooms.

The recommendations, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract teachers to rural areas where there are severe shortages of instructors in science and special education.

The ideas don’t come with any price tags and put the responsibility of rolling back Colorado’s growing teacher shortage on the shoulders of state lawmakers, local school districts, colleges and universities, and communities, said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

“Certainly the conversation has to start at the district level as well as the state level,” Hunter-Reed said. “We do not think one group or stakeholder will solve this. It’s a full-court press for everyone.”

The obvious solution is paying teachers a decent wage and putting them on par with other professions, said state Rep. Janet Buckner, who served this year on the House Education Committee.

“We are really going to have to have serious conversation about how we can better respect and value our teachers and help them keep up with the cost of living,” Buckner said.

Paying for those solutions is the problem, she said. “That’s the $64,000 question.”

The proposals were produced Friday by the Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Higher Education and came largely from 13 hall meetings held this summer in cities and towns, including Colorado Springs, Monte Vista and Parachute.

The meetings were called to deal with a mounting teacher shortage. As many as 3,000 teacher jobs go unfilled in Colorado, and the state’s 147 rural and small rural districts are especially hurt by the shortages. Some rural districts go for years without qualified teachers in math, science, world languages, and special and early-childhood education, the task force report said.

Teachers outside the metro area face chronic low wages with more than 95 percent earning below the cost of living, the task force said. A $29,000 starting salary and a student-loan debt reaching into the thousands of dollars forces many young teachers out of the classroom.

“We need to look at what other professions have done to help those just starting out,” Buckner said. “We have to come up with some better solutions to keep people from leaving teaching.”

In fact, teachers are paid 30 percent less than those employed in other fields by the time they reach mid-career, according to the report.

The task force said school districts could provide stipends for teachers willing to travel to more remote areas of Colorado to work. Dual licensure programs should also be available, allowing teachers to work where there are severe shortages of instructors while also making those same teachers more marketable.

Colleges and universities could offer scholarships to students willing to teach science, technology and special education classes. They can also align with school districts to develop “Grow Your Own” programs for local residents and high school students to nurture an interest in teaching, the task force said.

Colorado’s federal lawmakers could be tapped to forgive student-loan debt to allow education majors who dropped out of school to return to complete their education classes.

Teacher salaries, meanwhile, must be raised, the task force said. Sixty-seven percent of teachers who left the profession in 2011-12 said they would reconsider entering the field for a salary increase, it said.

“Teacher salaries need to be increased to ranges that allow teaches to earn a livable wage in many districts and to offset the cost of teacher preparation,” Reed said.

The recommendations will be reviewed by the upcoming Public Education and Business Coalition Forum on Thursday. The Colorado Senate and House Education Committees will review the plan this winter.

Increasing compensation and benefits is among four key goals in a plan aimed at addressing teacher shortages that the Colorado Department of Higher Education on Friday submitted to the Legislature.

That will involve things like a potential teacher minimum salary requirement, subsidy programs, student loan forgiveness and offering housing incentives to attract and retain teachers, the plan says.

The strategic plan, “Colorado’s Teacher Shortages: Attracting and Retaining Excellent Educators,” also calls for focusing on three other areas:

  • Improving educator retention.
  • Attracting talented teachers and administrators to areas of the state most in-need.
  • Producing more graduates from educator preparation programs.

The plan is in response to the state’s ever-growing teacher shortage. According to a supplemental report also presented to the Legislature Friday, the state sees about 5,000 educator openings each year, but the supply has not kept pace with demand: Enrollment in and completion of educator preparation programs have declined by 24 and 17 percent respectively since 2010, and nearly a third of Colorado educators will be eligible for retirement over the next several years.

That means Colorado loses approximately 16 percent of new classroom teachers within the first five years of teaching, the report says.

“We know that educators make all other professions possible, and attracting top talent to our school districts, especially in rural areas, is a must,” said Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

The recommendations will also require community and education partnerships, such as “grow your own” educator or teacher residency programs. Other programs, such as increasing compensation and benefits, would have to be approached at the state level.

For example, the plan asks for state funds to do things like create teacher induction programs, develop recognition programs for educators and provide funding to increase working conditions.

“We’re already seeing creative community solutions in supporting educators, and we’ll continue to rely on these partnerships as we look to implement high-impact recommendations,” said Dr. Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner.

The plan and report comes after the passage of House Bill 17-1003, CDHE and CDE developed the plan to help curb the state’s educator shortage, which is nearing a crisis in many Colorado districts. The bill was authored by Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango) and Sen. Don Coram (R- Montrose) and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.

Reed and Anthes will share the action plan at the upcoming Public Education and Business Coalition (PEBC) Superintendent Forum on Thursday, Dec. 7.