Mar 22, 2023 - News

"Iowa is no longer a destination" for teachers, recruits warn

Interim Superintendent Matt Smith at East High School on Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of DMPS

Des Moines Public Schools is increasing its investment into staff retention as it becomes more difficult to recruit teachers — particularly from out of state.

Why it matters: Teacher shortages create challenges in maintaining a normal school day.

  • In the past, metro districts have been forced to combine classrooms, substitute study halls for classes and get teachers to cover more often.

Driving the news: During Tuesday's school board meeting, interim Superintendent Matt Smith said some potential out-of-state recruits have expressed hesitation to work in Iowa because of the political climate.

  • "We are finding, and I am actually being told by many folks that we look to recruit from outside the state, that Iowa is no longer a destination," Smith said

The big picture: There's been tension between the metro's urban districts and Iowa's Republican Legislature.

How we got here: In recent years, lawmakers have proposed legislation that restricts how teachers run their classrooms and the materials they provide.

  • The most prolific legislation last year involved former Senate President Jake Chapman saying teachers have a "sinister agenda" and he proposed criminal charges against those that provide "obscene" materials.
  • In 2021, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill banning teaching about systemic racism and sexism, causing confusion about whether teachers are allowed to have Black Lives Matter signs in their classrooms.
  • And this year, Reynolds' education bill that's passed the Senate prohibits teaching about gender identity in K-3rd grade and using a student's preferred pronoun without parental permission.

What they're saying: Historically, potential teachers have looked up to Iowa's education system. But the current rhetoric from lawmakers is dissuading new recruits, Smith said.

  • "When folks are looking to relocate to Iowa to be a part of this community and a part of the state, they're having second thoughts about that."

Between the lines: Fewer college students are majoring in education, which is contributing to long-term shortages.

By the numbers: The district is hiring a higher number of its student teachers than before to fill its staffing needs. In fall 2022, 50% of the district's 58 student teachers were hired.

  • About 98% of teacher vacancies this year are filled, Smith said

Show me the money: DMPS is spending $81 million next fiscal year on staff retention, which includes insurance, retention bonuses, mentorship and leadership training.

  • The district estimates it can cost them up to $20K to try and recruit a new teacher.

Of note: The board approved a 3% pay increase in FY24 for teachers during Tuesday's meeting.


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