RICHMOND, Va. -- While teacher shortages persist in school districts across Virginia, a new report highlights ways Virginia can work to address vacancies on the front end by streamlining and modernizing the way teachers are trained and hired.
A report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) found there were an estimated 4,304 teacher vacancies to begin the school year across Virginia, although the specific number of vacancies varies widely by district.
Previous studies on the issue found that over the past couple of years, more teachers are leaving the profession than entering it, a problem that continues.
JLARC researchers said Virginia can improve its pipeline of teachers in a few different ways.
Traditional pathways to achieving a teaching license — attending college-level courses and training — are expensive but start teachers off on the best foot, JLARC's survey found. Virginia should pursue both the traditional and non-traditional pathways to licensure, but non-traditional pathways tend to produce fewer teachers who stick with the profession, researchers said.
Since the average cost to complete the traditional pathway is $57,000, Virginia can do more to fund scholarships that offset the cost of tuition and training, researchers said.
Virginia sends significantly less money than neighboring states with similar scholarship programs for future teachers. JLARC reported Virginia sends less than $1 million annually to their scholarship program currently, whereas North Carolina and Maryland both plan to allocate more than $10 million dollars every year to their respective programs.
JLARC staff reported the teacher licensure process is both outdated in many respects and confusing to those going through it. A survey of local school districts found about a third of them thought the steps and requirements to obtain a teaching license were not clearly explained.
Finally, Virginia does not collect centralized data about teacher performance and employment, which hinders leaders in seeing which programs work best for training and retaining teachers and which fall short.
Virginia education officials did push back on some of the data JLARC used to conduct their findings, saying it relied too heavily on surveys of school districts. Education leaders promised better data collection and said they are currently working to modernize the licensure process.
"I don’t know how many of you have ordered Domino’s pizza, but you can now see when your pizza is in the oven, when it moves, and when it moves to the carrier, when the driver comes. That’s the intended licensure system we plan to launch. Something that is very transparent," said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, Lisa Coons.
The highest number of teacher vacancies by district are in Southside and Tidewater, according to state data, so leaders said they also want to examine what districts with low vacancy rates are doing to create their own teacher pipelines.
"Because there is such variance across the Commonwealth, we know there are school divisions from which we can learn about the successful approaches they’ve used of building successful pipelines and dealing with the shortages," said Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera.
Abhi Kasanagottu's mother is an instructional assistant working with students with special needs at a Virginia public school.
She has seen firsthand the passion her mother pours into her students, and wishes leaders could do more to show teachers and educators the same love.
"She does come home stressed because they don’t get paid enough for the work that they do. They’re educating the next generation," Kasanagottu said. “Just like a doctor or a dentist, they take their stress and the things they experience home with them. . . A lot of teachers deal with difficult students or difficult faculty or difficult management and are underpaid. At the end of the day, they just go home and come back to school the next day.”
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