State teacher shortage reaching crisis levels

By Diana Hutchison

Nationwide the U.S. Department of Education reports that teacher shortages are prevalent in almost all school districts. In recent years, it has grown to be a more acute problem. Some factors that may contribute to these shortages are low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, testing requirements or insufficient resources.

The National Education Association (NEA) lists the average starting salary for a teacher in Arizona at $31,874, making it below the national average of $36,141. The NEA also found that Arizona is ranked among the bottom when it comes to spending per student.

In May of 2017, these shortages prompted Republican Governor Doug Ducey to sign legislation to loosen requirements and allow teachers without certification or teacher preparation to be hired.

According to Senate Bill 1042, school teachers are no longer required to have formal teacher certification. Applicants are instead required to have taught relevant courses for the last two consecutive years and for a total of at least three years at an accredited college-level institution. They may also be considered if they have Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in their subject area or have expertise through at least five years of work experience in a field relevant to their teaching subject.

Snowflake Unified School District does not have any teaching positions that remain unfilled but it has been affected by the shortage. Superintendent Hollis Merrell said, “The teacher shortage in Arizona is now at crisis levels. Most estimates, from surveys, have the shortage at over 2,000 teachers in the state. We have all our positions filled but many of the teachers we are hiring don’t have teaching degrees.”

Part of the problem may be that people are just not choosing teaching as their career path.  The Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit, issued a report in 2016 stating that enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014.  The report also indicates that every year, eight percent of the teaching workforce leaves. With a reduced pool of teachers, states like Arizona that are among the lowest in teacher pay, become less attractive creating a greater challenge for school districts looking to provide a quality education.