LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Lawmakers and educators on Tuesday discussed why teachers are leaving the profession and how to address the teacher shortage, what one legislator called a “set your hair on fire” issue.
In a presentation to a House education committee, Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Jason Glass said the state’s teacher turnover rate keeps going up and shortages are becoming more severe.
“While we’ve always been seeing shortages in those areas of math, science, special education and highly specialized teaching roles, we’re now seeing shortages in areas such as elementary education and social studies, which historically, have had an abundance of applicants,” he said.
The reasons for the shortage are complex, Glass said, but he pointed to overall teacher compensation, job demands and the politicization of education.
Rep. Russell Webber (R, Shepherdsville) said he has heard teachers don’t feel supported or safe and are facing challenges with discipline.
“I’ve had teachers talk to me about being attacked, harassed by third graders,” said Webber. “I look at your list here, and those may be factors, those may be legitimate factors for a large number of people in the classrooms that go down the list, but I will tell you, they are not the top three.”
Rep. Jennifer Decker (R, Waddy) accused KDE of having a “woke agenda” on its website, which includes a document called “Considerations for Using Student Preferred Names.” The document states that it “provides guidance to schools seeking to support LGBTQI+ students and their families.”
“I’m really shocked that we’re not talking about it here today,” said Decker. “I would beg you to think about it more and to think about your directives in this area, which are above teacher pay for many teachers who say, ‘I quit because of this.’”
Glass replied that he did not have any “woke directives” from KDE.
“If you’re referring to the transgender student pronoun guidance, it’s guidance,” he said. “It doesn’t have the force of law, but the problems and challenges that people are dealing with in our schools relate to discipline issues, they relate to recovery from COVID academic disruptions, they relate to lack of support at schools.”
Glass also asserted that the people making pronouns and “woke issues” a priority in schools are politicians.
The Coalition to Sustain the Education Profession shared their nine top requests of the General Assembly, including a teacher recruitment web portal, a marketing campaign and annual teacher education scholarships.
Teacher Amanda Sewell told lawmakers class sizes need to be smaller.
“A teacher shouldn’t have 25 kindergarten students in their classroom, even with an aide, so when I think about what can we do immediate, the teaching class size ... it’s huge,” said Sewell.
Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said Kentucky had 11,000 teacher vacancies this school year, but the Courier Journal has reported that the figure came from a state-run job portal that does not reflect current vacancies and was likely much lower.
House Education Committee Chair Rep. James Tipton (R, Taylorsville) said Tuesday he was told that as of Jan. 10, Kentucky had 1,517 certified vacancies, which would also include positions like principals and counselors.
Tipton is working on legislation related to the teacher shortage issue and hopes to have something filed in the next week, he said.