Report: Use incentives, support to attract teachers

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, March 15, 2016

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minnesota school administrators and teachers union leaders agreed Monday that a mix of financial incentives and support for new educators is the best way to address the state’s growing shortage of teachers in key specialties.

Email newsletter signup

The strategy was outlined in a policy report presented by Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, and aimed at getting a diverse and highly qualified teaching force into the state’s classrooms.

The report encourages lawmakers to:

•Provide financial incentives to teachers who want to work in high-need areas.

•Offer more funding for improved mentoring and on-the-job training.

•Take steps to encourage more students to consider teaching careers.

Union president Denise Specht said that for too long, educators have been scapegoats for socio-economic problems that hurt student achievement.

Low pay, high stress and little control over classroom decisions are driving talented people from the profession, she said.

“This needs to stop. If it doesn’t, the teacher shortage is going to get worse,” Specht said. “There aren’t enough people who want to be teachers.”

According to the state Department of Education, the average annual Minnesota teacher salary is $56,670. Education Minnesota has found the starting salary for a teacher is between $30,000 and $40,000.

Specht said a series of bills would be introduced at the Legislature in the coming weeks to address recommendations from the union’s report.

Meanwhile, officials from the Minnesota School Boards Association said they were backing the Teacher Shortage Act, a bill introduced last week by Senate Democrats that they anticipate will have bipartisan backing.

The legislation would provide new funding for training, evaluation and teacher bonuses, create new pathways to the classroom for prospective educators and provide grants and student loan forgiveness for teachers in high-need areas.

The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. A hearing on the legislation is expected this month.

“Traveling around the state, this is one of the most pressing issues we heard from districts,” Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the school boards association, said Monday.

“We are doing whatever we can to make sure teachers not only enter the profession but stay in the profession,” said Schneidawind, who said his group was working closely with Education Minnesota on the issue.

A growing number of school leaders say they have a tough time finding specialized teachers, particularly those who work with students with special academic, social and behavioral needs.

And, school officials say, those shortages are more pronounced in rural Minnesota.

The state also struggles to recruit a diverse teaching force. More than 30 percent of Minnesota students are minorities, but the state’s teachers are more than 95 percent white.

A 2015 examination of teacher supply and demand found Minnesota schools hired 3,500 teachers under a special permission provision because they did not have proper credentials and no one else was available. That represented 6 percent of the teaching force during the 2013-14 school year.

In 2013, the latest year for which data is available, about 10 percent of Minnesota’s teachers left their jobs mostly through retirements or for unspecified personal reasons. Roughly a third of new Minnesota teachers quit after their first five years, state data shows.

Education advocates and lawmakers have argued that the state’s complex teacher licensing system is part of the reason districts struggle to find qualified candidates. A recent examination by the state Legislative Auditor said the licensing system was broken and urged widespread changes.

Yet, a quick comprehensive overhaul is unlikely during this short legislative session. Instead, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have signaled support for a working group to study the licensing system and make recommendations for changes that could be adopted during the 2017 Legislature.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.