It doesn’t matter whether you ask a state education official or a local education leader, they all will tell you Indiana has a shortage of teachers. What was once just a shortage in a few areas like science and math has now become even wider spread and even more acute.
“Sadly, ‘Indiana’ and ‘teacher shortage’ have become synonymous terms,” said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick. “For nearly a decade we have struggled to find educators to fill even the frequently offered classroom subjects. Unfortunately, this shortage continues to spill into areas not only critical to Indiana’s education plan, but areas that prepare our students for a bright future. This also highlights the greater issue that Indiana’s educators deserve better pay and more practitioner-inclusive legislation in order to attract and retain them.”
Local officials say the shortage has led them to become creative in bringing in teachers, especially in areas like science.
“It is a real trick to find them,” said Barr-Reeve School Superintendent Travis Madison. “We’ve been aggressive on hiring science teachers over the last six or seven years. The last three we added were non-traditional. They did not originally come through the education system.”
“All three of our science teachers were non-traditional hires,” added North Daviess Superintendent Robert Bell. “There just are not enough of those people graduating from college.”
Even though the areas of science, technology, engineering and math have been very difficult to fill, increasingly local schools say they are having issues filling what might have been jobs that in the past had plenty of applicants.
“We have an opening for a family and consumer science teacher,” said Bell. “We have advertised the position and we received no applications. We went to Purdue and they said they didn’t even graduate anyone in that field. Elementary teacher jobs that we used to get 20 or 30 applications for these days only draw one or two.”
“We have noticed the same thing,” said Washington School Superintendent Dr. Dan Roach. “When I first came to Washington it was really difficult to hire math and science teachers, then we found we had a big shortage in elementary school teachers. We have been fortunate to hang onto a number of our elective teachers, but I do not look forward to any of them retiring.”
Filling the elective openings has become increasingly difficult for schools.
“We have an opening for a business teacher that we can’t fill,” said Madison. “People quit going to school to teach those classes because everything was so centered on getting people into college. We dropped our agriculture program because we couldn’t find a qualified teacher. Now, with the state mandating these pathways to graduation, elective level classes are needed but we don’t have the teachers.”
Madison says the school system has had to take some different approaches to still provide the classes students need.
“We have partnered with Vincennes University’s Agri-business department to provide the ag classes,” added Madison. “Also, because we are a smaller school, we also look for some of our teachers to double up on teaching different levels.”
One issue local schools have in attracting teachers is the same one rural schools all over Indiana struggle with.
“Very few new teachers are interested in coming out to rural communities to work,” said Bell. “You almost have to grow your own. Get people who grew up in your community to get an education degree and then come back home and work.”
One of the biggest problems though has been pay. Indiana teachers, on average, are in the bottom half of the nation in wages.
“Our starting salary ($39,200) is one of the highest in southwest Indiana,” said Bell. “We are working on our top end, because it is not as high as other school systems.”
Teacher pay was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the recently completed legislative session. In signing the state budget Governor Eric Holcomb described it as providing an historic level of funding for education.
“Hoosiers will benefit from the legislation advanced by our Next Level agency, including a balanced budget, increasing funding for education and improving school safety,” said Holcomb.
But there was no money specifically earmarked for teacher salaries. Lawmakers point out the state budget provides $763 million in new money for grades K-12 including a $150 million pay down on school pension liability that will free up funds to go into teacher paychecks.
State Senator Eric Bassler of Washington was on the Senate Ways and Means Committee that helped draft the budget and, in particular, worked on the education funding.
“Teachers salaries will increase only if the local school boards decide to take the money and use it for raises,” he said. “If the schools decide to spend the new money on salaries then there will be a raises, but if they decide to spend it on something else then there won’t be. Teacher salaries are a decision made by local school boards.”
Local school officials say they understand the argument. They point out that not all of the new money for education is going to public schools.
“Politics is politics,” said Madison. “They talk about total numbers but not the distribution. I cannot understand why the state continues to promote vouchers and charter schools. The studies show only a small percentage of students benefit from them and they have not been shown to do anything progressive or inventive to raise student test scores. Those schools are not held to the same accountability as public schools but they keep getting more and larger pieces of the funding pie.”
“The amount of money we will have to use for teacher salaries is still tied to the number of students who walk through the door,” added Bell. “I think we also need to consider how much money is going into testing. There are millions of dollars going to testing companies that could be going to schools to use for programming and salaries and operations. That money is coming from somebody’s pocket.”
Bassler says that he feels the budget is more than fair to public education.
“Public schools are going to have a lot of new dollars available to them,” he said. “On a per pupil basis, traditional public schools are still receiving the most money. When you add up the federal, state and local money for each student in Indiana, it totals on average $11,000 per student per year. That means in a classroom of 25 kids there is $275,000 a year going for that single class. Ask yourself, where is all of that money going? Ask yourself, if 50 percent of the state budget isn’t enough, how much is?”
Washington School Superintendent Roach points out that numbers can be numbers but rarely are the comparisons made in education in the form of apples to apples. “There is a problem with just throwing numbers around,” he said. “We all recognize the difficulties in building budgets, but where the dollars go is important. How much is going to local schools? how much to charters and vouchers? Some districts get more funding than others and all of the districts have different needs.”
One place that gives Washington additional challenges is the number of students who start that are not proficient at English. English Second Language teachers are on the state’s list of shortages. “I have yet to find a surplus of ESL teachers,” said Roach. “It all provides unique challenges. We have to find translators, sometimes not just for the kids but for their parents. Despite those challenges we find that after several years many of these students thrive once they become proficient in English. The problem is the number of dollars in that funding (through the Complexity Index) is shrinking.”
One thing that Madison will agree with is the new budget put more money into what is called the foundation amount.
“That is good for us because we can use that,” said Madison. “We’ve put a plan together and we hope to have the teacher contract settled by the time classes are done this spring. Hopefully, we can put something together with 3 percent increases for the next couple of years.”
Madison says he also feels that it may be time for local schools to try and do a better job of recruiting potential future teachers.
“We know teaching and education has been under attack,” said Madison. “But there is still nothing like it. It is a good job and a good career. There is nothing that can compare to knowing you have made a difference in the life of a student. We know no job is perfect, but this teacher shortage is for real.”
“The budget and school funding is always going to be a challenge,” added Bassler. “I just know when we finished this budget that the education funding had the support of the Indiana Rural Schools Association, the Suburban Schools Association and the School Superintendents Association.”
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) submited to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) its most recent list of teacher shortage areas. Including such areas as Exceptional Needs and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), Indiana’s list highlights the statewide struggle to find teachers for nearly 15 subjects. IDOE’s submission includes: Business, Computer Education, Computer Science, CTE Licensure Areas (all), Early Childhood Education, Exceptional Needs (all), Fine Arts: Instrumental and General Music, Fine Arts: Vocal and General Music, Mathematics, Science (all), Secondary Language Arts, Technology Education, and Teachers of English Learners; and World Languages (all).