A shortage of teachers in our public schools spells trouble.
The Great Recession caused just that – a dramatic decrease in the number educators available to teach our children. As a result of budgetary cuts on all levels of government, the number of educators in our public school system fell drastically over a four-year period, causing children to be squeezed into overcrowded classrooms and lose opportunities to receive a top quality education.
Recently, the number of teachers at the front of the classroom is back on the rise. But nationwide, we still have 214,000 fewer teachers than we did at the beginning of the recession. Not only that, but during that time, we should have added an additional 158,000 to meet the needs of a growing population.
This trend has tested Montana as well. Last year, the state had over 1,377 open positions, nearly half of which were in critical areas such as special education, English, math, and science. An additional 540 of these were elementary school teachers.
In Indian Country, the shortage is even greater. A ten percent cut to the Federal Impact Aid program during the sequestration of 2013 meant school district on reservations had a tougher time filling positions with deep funding cuts.
It doesn’t help that Montana has the lowest average starting teacher pay in the country at $27,000, an amount too low to attract the number of quality teachers needed, especially in remote, isolated schools districts. The state’s Qualified Educator Loan Repayment program helps attract teachers to rural and high-need schools; however, the program doesn’t fully address teacher shortages across the state.
While Montana has increased our funding to public schools in recent years, we still have a lot of catching up to do in order to guarantee that all of our children are getting the education that they deserve.
Montana’s teachers are at the very heart of a quality education. When the spot at the front of the classroom is left open, our children pay the price.