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Mountain West states look for solutions to widespread teacher shortages

a dimly lit classroom with wooden desks spaced apart from each other, an American flag in the foreground and a door illuminated in natural light toward the back of the classroom.
John Moore
Getty Images
Eighty-five percent of Colorado educators say the current teacher shortage in classrooms is “significantly or somewhat worse than previous school years,” according to a state report.

News brief: 

Officials across the Mountain West are looking for ways to recruit and retain more teachers in local schools. While salary changes are a large part of discussions, low pay isn’t the only thing contributing to this critical labor shortage.

Teachers have reported high rates of burnout and anxiety since the pandemic. More than half of educators say they’re ready to quit the profession earlier than they had expected, according to a 2022 study from the National Education Association. That’s a troubling trend for an industry that’s already short about 300,000 educators and staff members.

Other concerns teachers have include a lack of safety, poor student behavior and an increase in scrutiny from parents and public officials.

Kevin Vick of the Colorado Education Association said in a recent legislative hearing that bureaucratic hiccups also contribute to the shortage.

“For educators moving to the state of Colorado, pursuing a Colorado teaching license has proven to be a significant burden, and in some cases, a barrier,” he said.

That’s why some state lawmakers are pursuing a bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to get licensed in Colorado. Eighty-five percent of Colorado educators say the current teacher shortage in classrooms is “significantly or somewhat worse than previous school years,” according to a state report.

“Respecting our educators as professional experts means centering our voices and expertise in legislation that affects our work,” Vick said.

In Wyoming and Nevada, state officials have created task forces to focus on teacher recruitment and retention. Some recommendations include increasing general education funding, expanding training and mentorship programs and granting student loan forgiveness. Governors in Idaho and Utah have supported increasing starting teacher pay. In New Mexico, lawmakers want to create tax breaks for those who buy their own school supplies.

At a national level, the White House is partnering with job websites like ZipRecruiter to try and expand hiring in K-12 schools. Federal officials are also advocating for higher wages and apprenticeship programs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Will Walkey
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