Washington State Legislature Passes Several Bills to Address Teacher Shortage

By Daarel Burnette II — February 18, 2016 1 min read
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Washington state legislators passed a series of bills Wednesday they hope will partly fix the state’s teacher shortage.

One bill, passed by the House, allows the state superintendent to come up with a statewide plan to increase the number of teachers in the state.

Another House bill allows retired teachers to mentor young teachers, and a Senate bill would allow retired teachers to be teachers or substitutes without hurting their pension benefits.

None of the proposed bills increase teacher pay, which teacher advocates in the state claim is at the crux of the state’s teacher shortage. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year proposed a budget that would raise the minimum amount teachers in the state make by $4,300 to $40,000, raise other teachers’ salaries 1 percent, and start a teacher-mentor program. He would pay for these initiatives by eliminating several tax exemptions.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how advocacy organizations were using the teacher shortage crisis to push forward their policy agendas.

From my story:

Conservatives and free-market lobbyists, for example, want to completely eliminate or scale back certification requirements, expand their Teach For America corps and other alternative routes into the profession, and allow superintendents to sidestep bargaining agreements to give bonuses to special teachers in hard-to-staff fields like special education, science, and math. Liberals and re-energized teachers’ unions want to raise taxes to boost teacher pay and make significant changes to states’ teacher-evaluation systems, which they say have gone too far in their reliance on test scores and damaged teacher morale.

Washington state’s teacher shortage is especially stark with at least 93 percent of the state’s principals reporting in a survey that they struggle to find qualified candidates and 45 percent saying they can’t fill openings with qualified substitutes.

This morning, I spoke with Alan Burke, the executive director of Washington’s State School Director Association.

Burke said the bevvy of legislation passed Wednesday is “a step in the right direction” but said he doesn’t think it will take care of the entire state’s teacher shortage, which he described as a “supply and demand” problem.

The real issue, he said, lies with high school and college students’ perception of the teaching profession.

“There’s so much negativity out there about teachers, that they’re to blame for xy and z,” he said. “Why go into the profession when you have other opportunities that’ll pay more and will give you less of a hassle? But you have to appreciate anything you can get. It’s a step in the right direction.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.