seeking answers

State unveils plan to tackle Colorado teacher shortage, including exploring ways to boost pay

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

To combat a shortage of teachers in Colorado, state education officials on Friday unveiled a sweeping strategic plan proposing ways to attract, keep and better pay educators.

More than 30 strategies are spelled out, ranging from student loan forgiveness and housing incentives to coming up with extra pay to attract educators to stretched-thin rural areas.

An early draft floated one bold possibility — setting a minimum salary for educators in Colorado tied to the cost of living. The final plan released Friday said the state should “explore” that possibility, but it stopped short of recommending legislation to establish it.

In response to legislation passed this year, officials from the state departments of education and higher education were required to deliver to lawmakers by Friday a report recommending steps to tackle the teacher shortage problem in Colorado. What happens next rests largely in the hands of state lawmakers, who return to the Capitol next month.

“We know that educators make all other professions possible, and attracting top talent to our school districts, especially in rural areas, is a must,” Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging in policy conversations to advance solutions that will support our teachers, students, and communities.”

Cost is a significant barrier to seeing through the plan’s vision, which the departments acknowledge. Funding public education in Colorado is a perpetual challenge, and about two-thirds of the proposed strategies carry what the plan describes as a “high” to “moderate to high” price tag. Specific cost estimates were not cited.

Strategies to boost teacher pay and benefits are among the most expensive pieces of the plan. Along with looking at setting minimum salary for teacher and early child care providers, the departments are urging lawmakers to consider incentives for educators who teach in hard-to-staff districts and content areas, including STEM and special education.

Another possible move: establishing subsidies for early child care and education businesses to increase the salaries and wages of early child care providers. In Colorado and other states, low pay is a barrier to providing quality and accessible child care.

Not all parts of the state lack teachers, and some grade levels and content areas have no shortage of job-seekers. State officials said the shortage is exacerbated in early childhood education and care, and subjects such as mathematics, science, special education, world languages and art/music/drama, as well as in urban and rural areas.

The state notes that several recommendations would require community and education partnerships — including one to expand “grow your own” educator or teacher residency programs — while some could be put into practice on a statewide level.

“We’re already seeing creative community solutions in supporting educators, and we’ll continue to rely on these partnerships as we look to implement high-impact recommendations,” Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in a statement. “Now that we’ve collected all of this valuable feedback from communities around the state, I look forward to continuing the discussion with our legislature, state board, districts, and educator preparation programs.”

Some of the state’s proposals have found success elsewhere. A recent study found that offering bonuses or loan forgiveness to teachers in positions that are hard to staff can prove effective.

State officials also released an accompanying report detailing the scope of teacher shortage issue in Colorado and other states.

Since 2010, there’s been a 24 percent drop in graduates from the traditional teacher prep programs at Colorado’s colleges and universities. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment to those programs.

Alternative programs, such as residency programs, have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. However, those programs produce far fewer teachers than traditional programs and can’t keep up with demand. According to the state department of education, the state’s public schools employ more than 53,000 teachers.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.



story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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