Louisiana facing worsening shortages of classroom teachers

Education

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s classroom teacher shortage is growing worse, with rising retirements and declining ranks of new teachers in districts around the state.

The Advocate reports that the ranks of students in the LSU School of Education plunged 57% in the past decade and 39% in the past five years, according to figures provided by the school.

Meanwhile, retirements of teachers and other school personnel shot up 25% from 2020 to 2021, according to data compiled by the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. More than 2,100 K-12 employees retired after the 2019-20 school year, increasing to 2,686 a year later.

Doris Voitier, superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District and a veteran of 50 years in the profession, said the current education landscape is unlike anything she has seen.

“I have never had as much of a struggle to adequately staff our programs as I have the past year,” said Voitier, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Officials in other school districts tell similar stories.

The Livingston Parish school system reports shortages for all positions. The Ascension Parish School District has 37 open instructional jobs at 18 of the district’s 31 schools, said Jackie Tisdell, spokesperson for the highly ranked system.

Wes Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District, said his system is struggling to find special education teachers — a common refrain that also applies to math and science teachers.

“We are seeing fewer teacher candidates than ever at all grade levels,” Watts said.

Education leaders have said for years that the number of teachers is shrinking because of pay, classroom conditions and a negative aura around the profession. Public school teachers in Louisiana are paid an average of $50,923 — $4,007 below the regional average.

“Everyone knows no one wants to be a teacher anymore,” Cynthia Posey, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this month.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said 50% of teachers leave the profession after five years and over 60% after a decade.

“Retention is certainly a hurdle that has to be explored,” he said.

The shortage has a direct impact on day-to-day learning, with 23% of teachers either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise, according to figures provided by the state Department of Education.

Education leaders have taken a number of steps to address the problem.

The state has made it easier for mid-career professionals to enter the classroom. Aspiring teachers are required as college seniors to spend one year in a classroom working with a mentor, a response to complaints from novice educators that they were not ready for the job.

In addition, a panel on teacher recruitment and retention is studying the issue to make recommendations to the state education board and lawmakers. The task force is set to unveil its first report to education leaders Dec. 15 and to state lawmakers by mid-January.

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