Every child deserves a quality education. At present, far too many of Connecticut’s students are sacrificing learning opportunities to accommodate a shortage in teaching talent. In order to correct for dismally low teacher recruitment and retention rates, lawmakers should turn to an effective solution: increasing certification flexibility.
Connecticut is currently experiencing a statewide teacher shortage in many subject areas, including mathematics, world languages, and special education. Outside of the classroom, shortages also exist for positions including school psychologists and speech and language pathologists. Some 1,588 public school teachers have retired since January of 2020 and an additional 831 had filed for retirement since July 2021. To make matters worse, COVID-related federal funding is set to expire in 2024, which will likely offset temporary hiring gains. Alliance Districts, which represent the 33 lowest-performing public school districts in Connecticut, are especially impacted by these shortages, making teacher recruitment and retention an issue of educational equity.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Board of Education (SBE) passed resolutions to adopt teacher certification flexibilities for the 2020-21 school year. These flexibilities were designed to help public school districts meet the challenge of teacher shortages created by COVID-19-related quarantines, medical accommodations, and retirements. As the pandemic (and teacher shortages) continues to define the 2021-22 school year, the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) has a responsibility to permanently expand teacher recruitment and certification flexibility.
While teachers are in short supply nationwide, Connecticut has historically struggled to attract and retain educators. A month into the 2014-15 school year, for example, 250 teaching positions were unfilled statewide. According to a 2019 report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank based out of the State University of New York, Connecticut has seen persistent teaching shortages in bilingual programs, math, science, and special education. Additional factors contributing to the shortage, the report noted, include rising rates of teacher retirement and a steep decline in enrollment in the state’s teacher preparation programs.
Connecticut’s peers have gotten creative, designing innovative programs to promote teacher hiring, training, and relocation. Arkansas is offering thousands of dollars in grants and student loan forgiveness. Colorado lawmakers want to spend $13 million to recruit future teachers, making it easier for mid-career professionals to transition to teaching. Washington, D.C.-area districts are offering teachers double pay and $1,000 bonuses. Just this year, New Jersey enacted a new law designed to make out-of-state certifications transferable, offering licenses to teachers that hold equivalent credentials from other states (source: Politico).
In 2020, Connecticut’s own General Assembly considered Senate Bill 390: An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention, which would have created minority teacher candidate residency programs in all Alliance Districts. The bill would ultimately fail to become law. As it stands, “nearly 10% of the state’s teachers are minorities, while approximately 48% of the students are non-white” (source: CT Office of Legislative Research). Increasing the number of minority teachers across the state would not only fill teacher shortages, but would also better reflect the diversity of the state’s student body.
In order to alleviate Connecticut’s teacher shortage, the General Assembly should borrow good ideas from out-of-state, beginning with the promotion of cross-endorsements and certification reciprocity. Currently, Connecticut offers proxy licenses to teachers from most neighboring states, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Massachusetts (source: TeachingCertification.com). Less traditional solutions, including mortgage assistance and loan forgiveness, promise to correct the issue in the long-haul. Connecticut already offers a meager discount to teachers who purchase a home in designated “Target Areas,” receiving an additional 0.25% deduction on the CHFA (Connecticut Housing Finance Authority) published interest rate (source: CHFA). Financial aid and scholarships for prospective educators, especially those coming from minority backgrounds, should also be promoted. It is in Connecticut’s power to organize scholarship funds in the mold of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and Alma Exley Scholarship Program, which offer financial support to future teachers of color. Connecticut could also look to rehire retired teachers with added incentives, such as waiving the statutory earnings limit for teachers who forgo Teachers’ Retirement Board (TRB) benefits during their period of reemployment (source: Superintendents Memo). States like New Jersey have lowered the number of credits needed to qualify as a substitute teacher from 60 to 30 (source: NJ Legislature), a model that could be imported from our neighbor to the south.
Connecticut’s teacher shortage represents both a policy failure and moral imperative. Connecticut can do better to create a more equitable future for our public school students. The time to act is now.
Raymond Jin is a freshman at Yale University.