Colorado education officials are into some serious summer homework.
They’re on the hunt for causes and potential solutions to the state’s teacher shortage, prompted by a bill approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The assignment demands a final report and officials have to submit their findings to the legislature in 2018.
It’s a daunting problem. Colorado schools had around 3,000 vacancies at the start of the summer. Some positions in rural districts can stay vacant for years.
Statistics hint the issue could get worse. A third of Colorado teachers are set to reach retirement age in the next five years and new teachers are not lining up to fill their places. The number of graduates from state teacher preparation programs has declined by a quarter in the last five years.
Kim Reed, head of the state Department of Higher Education, is helping run a series of town halls on the issue across the state. There’s also an online survey available to the public. Here are some of the ideas gathered so far:
1. Higher Pay
A few op-eds on the teacher shortage have struck a similar note: it’s the money, stupid. The Denver Post reports the average pay for teachers in rural Colorado is $22,700. Teachers in urban districts tend to make more, but also face a higher cost of living.
One idea, Reed said, is a statewide base pay for teachers. “We are looking at a full range of ideas,” she said. “That would be one with a much higher price tag.”
2. Subsidize Teacher Housing
As housing costs mount in Colorado, so have fears that local districts won’t be able to recruit or retain their teachers. In response, some districts have started “buying down the rent.” Aspen has offered subsidized housing to teachers for 15 years. The Roaring Fork School District has already used a bond to build 60 subsidized living spaces for local educators.
Roaring Fork Superintendent Rob Stein told The Atlantic that districts can address housing on a local level without worrying about Colorado’s often intractable school finance system. Another project has even been brought into the classroom at Glenwood High School. Students there are looking at designing tiny homes for their teachers.
3. Encourage Part-Time Work Opportunities
One idea from the town halls is a more flexible employment system for teachers, Reed says. Second jobs for teachers could help keep them in the profession. The chance to teach without giving up a career could draw more new people in.
Colorado teachers are already trying out some side hustles. About one in five Colorado teachers work a second job, according to a 2014 study. There’s even BuyaTeacher.com — a website meant to match employers and Colorado teachers with extra time
4. Teacher Recruitment Campaigns
Another idea out of the town halls is a marketing campaign to attract teachers. The U.S. Department of Education launched its TEACH campaign to recruit educators in 2013. Some criticized it for pasting over the difficulties of a job that has only become harder in recent years.
5. Support and Mentorship For Early-Career Teachers
Research on teachers across the country shows 17 percent leave before their fourth year. Reed says town hall attendees discussed ways to support people new to the profession. “Let’s not just throw them off the deep end and say good luck,” she says. “We could help them as they get their sea legs.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the projects underway in the Roaring Fork Valley to subsidize teacher housing.