RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Governor Glenn Youngkin said he is fast-tracking a plan to reduce teacher shortages. It comes as some fear recently approved pay raises were too little, too late.
The Virginia Education Association (VEA) found, that as of Aug. 11, nearly 10,500 job openings were posted by school divisions statewide, many of which were teaching positions. The VEA’s analysis also found divisions with the highest share of Black students had an average vacancy rate more than four times larger than divisions with the lowest share.
Official state data for this school year is not yet available but comparisons from previous years suggests the problem may be growing. Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education, said school divisions reported 1,063 unfilled teaching positions in the pre-pandemic Oct. 1, 2019 snapshot. In the Oct. 1, 2021 snapshot, there were 2,563 teacher vacancies.
Speaking to reporters after an event on Monday, Governor Youngkin said his administration is working aggressively to find solutions.
“I was just meeting with a group of retired teachers who, in fact, want to come back and teach now and are having trouble getting their licenses renewed and also some challenges with the retirement system’s treatment of that. We’ve got a SWAT team working on that right now,” Youngkin said.
Youngkin’s office didn’t provide specifics on when and how changes would be implemented.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said in a text that they’re working closely with the Board of Education and across state governments to remove barriers.
“The way I work is not for next year, but right now. This is where the issues are and so I’m really hopeful that we can see immediate outcomes,” Youngkin said.
The General Assembly took other steps to expand flexibility earlier this year.
One new law allows the Board of Education to grant a two-year extension for all licenses expiring on June 30, 2022.
Another new law enables those who obtained a valid teaching license in a foreign country within the last five years to come into a Virginia classroom with a provisional license, which would be valid for up to three years.
“They have to substantially meet the requirements we would expect from a licensed teacher in the United States,” Senator Barbara Favola, who sponsored the bill, said in an interview on Monday.
It’s not clear if the state has granted any provisional licenses since the change took effect July 1. Favola wasn’t sure and the Virginia Department of Education didn’t respond to a question about it.
“Some school systems had actually been doing this prior to my legislation so that’s how great the need is,” Favola said. “It brings diversity into our schools and allows us to fill the teacher shortage.”
The recently approved state budget also gives state employees, including teachers, a 5% raise in each of the next two fiscal years, as well as a $1,000 bonus in the first year.
“The raises that were passed in this budget are hugely important. I was frustrated that it was sent to my desk as late as it was in June when, in fact, had it been done back in March, when it could’ve been, then everyone would’ve known how much money they would’ve had to hire teachers. So we were behind the eight ball,” Youngkin said.
Local school divisions need to pay a share of the raise for teachers to fully benefit, according to Favola. She said the amount varies based on a formula that takes into account the wealth of each district.
The Virginia Education Association (VEA) said, even with the increase, state lawmakers didn’t live up to their promise to push teacher pay above the national average.
“When inflation is accounted for, even if divisions accepted this full match, it’s not clear if staff would even see an increase in their spending power or if it would decline,” the VEA’s report said. “Virginia lawmakers have long understood the troubling trends for staffing shortages, and this crisis ultimately is a product of choices they made to under-resource our schools.”
Favola said she wants to see Virginia in the top five states.
“We’re not there yet and we will have to put a lot more state funding on the table,” Favola said.
In the future, Favola said state lawmakers may also look at forgiving student loan debt to incentivize teachers and allowing college students to get into the classroom during the last year of their degree.
Additionally, the VEA said lawmakers should reduce financial barriers to becoming a certified teacher by investing more in programs that cover tuition in exchange for a commitment to work in a high-need school for a certain number of years.
“This type of rhetoric and policy action has led to harassment of teachers and school staff nationally and contributes to additional stress and burnout from the profession,” the VEA said.