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Colorado education officials hope these three ideas will reverse the state teacher shortage

Education Commissioner Katy Anthes and Executive Director of the Department of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed take questions on the state's teacher shortage. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado education leaders are zeroing in on three broad ways to curb the state’s teacher shortage: increasing compensation, improving preparation and training, and “lifting the profession.”

While specific strategies are still being fleshed out, those three themes were highlighted Wednesday at a press conference held by Katy Anthes, the state’s education commissioner, and Kim Hunter Reed, the executive director of the department of higher education.

“We have a lot of work to do to talk about the profession that makes all other professions possible,” Hunter Reed said.

Anthes and Hunter Reed spoke to reporters as the two departments are wrapping up a series of forums across the state to gather input on how to best the shortage, which is especially pronounced in rural Colorado and in high school math and science classrooms.

The departments are tasked with creating a strategic plan to present to state lawmakers by December. The department heads said the plan will provide a mix of approaches that lawmakers, local school districts and communities can deploy based on individual needs.

One suggestion that has been a crowd favorite at the town halls is a statewide base-salary for teachers, officials said.

Share your solutions on the teacher shortage
There are three more town halls to address the teacher shortage:
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 23 at Las Animas Elementary School
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 30 at Vilas School in Collingwood
  • 5 p.m., Sept. 6 at Monte Vista High School.

However, neither Anthes nor Hunter Reed would commit to making such a recommendation to the legislature. Such a mandate would likely require an extensive influx of cash to schools, or at the least drastic cuts to other school-based programs at the local level. The latter scenario would infuriate superintendents in smaller school districts who are already feeling the squeeze to increase the required minimum wages for other workers.

“The answer doesn’t have to be to raise the entire school finance formula,” Anthes said, adding that changes to compensation could include loan forgiveness and block grants.

Both stressed that it would take more than new state laws to boost the number of new teachers and keep current teachers in the profession. That’s especially true, they said, when it comes to reframing the public conception of educators.

“You can’t legislate value and professionalism,” Hunter Reed said.

“We need to lift the profession of educators,” Anthes said. “I do think teaching is harder than rocket science.”

More specific ideas the departments are considering include developing new training at the college level, increasing awareness of alternative ways to become a teacher and providing educators better access to affordable housing.

“It’s a lot of little things that we hope add up,” Anthes said.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.