McDonogh 35 history teacher Donald Hess works with his students. The Louisiana Department of Education will receive about $2.6 billion from the COVID-19 relief package. (Photo courtesy of Donald Hess)
Louisiana education leaders’ message to state lawmakers was clear: the teacher shortage in K-12 schools has reached emergency levels.
“This is a crisis for us. We need more teachers,” Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed told the House Education Committee during a hearing Thursday at the State Capitol.
Ronnie Morris, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, works as a substitute teacher in East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes. He told lawmakers he asked a class of high school students if they could change anything, what would they do.
“A couple of students raised their hand and very sincerely said, ‘Mr. Morris, can you get me a teacher?’” he said.
There are about 2,500 certified teacher vacancies across the state, Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley said to the committee.
If you do simple math and assume those teacher vacancies would affect 2,500 classrooms with an average 20 students each, Brumley said that means about 50,000 Louisiana K-12 students are affected by teacher vacancies in the state.
There are about 700,000 Louisiana K-12 students in public schools in total, according to the education department’s website.
The teacher shortage is not only affecting students but also straining teachers who have to pick up the slack.
“Teachers are having to use their planning period to go in and fill substitute positions,” Morris said, “and then oftentimes that’s not enough.”
Schools are also having to expand class sizes to accommodate, further stretching working teachers, Morris said. Some schools have put large groups of students into cafeterias or gyms to supervise them because there aren’t enough teachers to educate them, he said.
“That’s not school,” he said. “That’s just babysitting, and we can do better than that.”
In 2011, about 3,231 students completed a bachelor’s degree program in Louisiana to become an educator. Since then, the number has shrunk to 2,743, meaning about 500 fewer teachers are entering the workforce than a decade ago.
In an effort to address the teacher shortage, the committee approved a bill to create the Geaux Teach Fund, authored by Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. The scholarship program would “create an opportunity for us to go into our high schools and recruit some of our best and brightest students across Louisiana and ask for them to consider a career in education,” Brumley said.
“We’ve got to be passionate about changing the methodology, and we’ve got to be people that go out and sell the need for education,” Thompson said.
The bill doesn’t designate any state money for the fund. It would also require the education department to adopt rules around eligibility, dollar amount and implementation at a later date.
“We’re trying to create the bank account today, and we’ll have to worry about putting the funds in the account later,” Brumley said.
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