Updated Aug 14, 2022 - Economy

School districts across America will do anything for more teachers

Illustration of a golden apple on a stack of books.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

School districts nationwide are turning to extraordinary measures in a desperate effort to get enough teachers in their classrooms before the academic year kicks off.

Why it matters: The teacher shortage — driven by burnout, low pay and ever-increasing demands — is a slow-motion crisis that's happening everywhere, and there's no easy way to reverse it.

  • The wage gap between teachers and the rest of the comparably educated workforce was about 21% in 2018. That disparity was a much smaller 6% back in 1996, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, reports Axios' Erica Pandey.

State of play: As the school year approaches, everything from eye-popping financial incentives to suspensions of licensing requirements remains on the table, but there's no guarantee that they'll bring in the people needed — let alone provide a good environment for students.

Des Moines Public Schools is offering a $50,000 incentive to teachers, nurses and administrators who are nearing retirement to stay with the district through the 2022-2023 school year.

  • Recipients must be 60 years old by June 30, 2023 and have a minimum of 15 years at DMPS to be eligible for the incentive.
  • At least 58 have taken the offer so far, according to records obtained by Axios.

The Dallas Independent School District recently set aside $51 million for salary increases and $52 million for retention bonuses for 2022-2023. The district's starting pay for newly hired teachers is now $60,000 and the minimum wage for staff is $15.

  • That kicked off a recruiting arms race among school districts in North Texas, where a population boom and rising costs of living have made it difficult for some to keep up.

The Florida Department of Education announced it would issue a temporary teaching certificate to veterans "who have not yet earned their bachelor's degree" after a new law took effect July 1.

  • "I sure wouldn't want them to do something like this with my doctor," Barry Dubin, president of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "Are we going to just waive the bar [exam] for five years for veterans to practice law and see how they do?”
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wants to fill vacant teaching positions next year with police officers and other first responders, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
  • Under legislation that would be up for consideration in the upcoming legislative session, the exam fees for the state certification program would be waived for law enforcement officers and first responders.
  • "We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer," DeSantis said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law in 2017 permitting people without formal training to teach in the classroom, as long as they have at least five years of experience in a field that's relevant to their classroom subject.

  • Ducey took things a step further this year with a law eliminating the requirement that teachers have a bachelor's degree, instead only requiring that they be enrolled in college.

The big picture: These scrambles don't even begin to address the damage that the pandemic has already done to students' educations, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • At the current rate, it may take years for some students to recover from pandemic-era learning loss, according to a NWEA report earlier this month.
  • "If you're going to try to patch a hole, it's all about making sure that the size of the patches that you're using are big enough to cover the hole," said Thomas Kane, a Harvard economist who has done extensive research on the pandemic achievement loss.

The bottom line: The vast majority of these staffing strategies are a stopgap, not a solution — and there's no evidence that the teacher shortage is easing anytime soon.

Axios' Jason Clayworth, Jeremy Duda, Ben Montgomery and Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi contributed to this report.

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Editor's note: This post was updated to include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' plan to fill vacant positions.

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