Kansas Education Commissioner Alexa Posny talks about the teacher shortage in Kansas
Topeka Top public school officials Tuesday sought help to fill a teacher shortage that may be worse now than ever before.
"This is probably the largest number of vacancies we've ever had, and we know that this is only the beginning," Kansas Education Commissioner Alexa Posny said.
Posny said at the end of June, Kansas schools had 1,144 teacher vacancies out of 37,000 positions. That's about twice as many vacancies as June 2006, she said.
She said most of this year's vacancies had been filled by the start of the school year but won't have an exact number until checking all districts next month.
Posny and several school district superintendents testified to the 2010 Commission, made up of legislators and community leaders working on education issues. The commission is expected to propose legislation for the 2008 Legislature to address the teacher shortage.
The shortage has been caused by retiring baby boomers, low teacher pay, fewer people entering the profession and competition among states for those who are getting teacher certificates, educators said.
"The teacher shortage spans across all subject areas, with the greatest need being in special education, math and science," said David Brax, superintendent of the Buhler district in central Kansas.
And while the problem has been felt mostly in rural areas and much of western Kansas, the shortage is spreading eastward, officials said. Even so, Lawrence school officials have said they have been able to fill their vacancies.
Officials from schools experiencing problems had numerous recommendations for the 2010 Commission to consider.
¢ Increasing teacher pay. Kansas ranks 38th in average teacher pay at $39,351 per year. The national average is $47,602.
¢ Increasing funding for mentoring programs where veteran teachers help new teachers.
¢ Financing "grow your own" programs where districts pay college tuition for para-professionals and others who want to become licensed teachers.
¢ Removing both salary limits and pension penalties for districts that hire teachers who have retired.
¢ Providing more flexibility in licensure regulations.
¢ Offering financial incentives to college students who commit to working in critical shortage subject and geographic areas.