Nov 17, 2021 - News

Staffing problems mount for Tennessee schools

A handwriting alphabet above the chalkboard spells out "Hiring."

Maura Losch/Axios

Nearly one in five Tennessee public school teachers will be eligible to retire in the next four years, a factor that could exacerbate another troubling trend.

What’s happening: The Tennessee School Boards Association released a report last month showing 13,791 teachers (17%) will be able to retire by June 30, 2025.

  • At the same time, the nation is in the grips of a teacher shortage that is likely to outlast the pandemic, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Why it matters: The double whammy of staffing problems in Tennessee could create a crisis.

  • "Districts across the state already have problems filling vacancies," TSBA assistant executive director and general counsel Ben Torres tells Axios. "This issue will only grow if more teachers decide to retire."

Driving the news: Axios' Erin Doherty reports that one in four teachers nationally said they were likely to leave their jobs at the end of last school year, according to a report by the RAND Corporation from March. That's compared to one in six who prior to the pandemic said they were likely to leave their jobs.

  • A net 65,000 public education employees left the industry nationally between September and October alone, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • COVID-19 protocols, the loss of planning periods, and broader mental health problems caused by stress have contributed to the issue, Doherty reports.

What they're saying: Tennessee districts are struggling to fill roles across the board, even in traditionally popular elementary school classrooms, Megan Parker Peters, associate dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb University, tells Axios.

  • "This environment, it's become a crisis that we've all watched happen," Parker Peters says.
  • In an effort to address the trends, Lipscomb is retooling its curriculum for aspiring teachers to include more emphasis on technology and the psychological strain of the job.

Between the lines: Gov. Bill Lee's administration is working to overhaul the state's education funding formula — the first major update to the basic education program formula in more than a decade.

Under Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, the department prioritized hiring more teachers by cutting licensure red tape and establishing partnerships between universities and school districts to cover tuition, textbooks, and other expenses for prospective teachers.


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