Special ed teacher shortage has district exploring options
De Soto USD 232 finally is feeling the teacher shortage already affecting most of the state.
The district needs more teachers certified in special education and Mark Schmidt, director of human resources for the district, thinks he knows how to encourage more teachers to gain their certification.
Schmidt presented a proposal to the De Soto board of education last week that would allow tuition reimbursement for teachers in the district who complete their special education or English language learners certification. Discussion on the proposal was tabled until official negotiations can occur between the De Soto Teacher's Association and the district. Schmidt said he expects to present the proposal again at the next school board meeting in January.
Teachers must receive their master's degree in order to be fully certified to teach special education, Schmidt said. Currently, 13 teachers in the De Soto school district are not fully certified. Eleven of those teachers have completed nine hours or less toward their certification. The state gives provisionary licenses in special education to teachers in degree seeking programs.
"As a practical manner, we certainly want to have as many fully licensed folks as we can in our schools and if we have somebody that is not fully licensed we want to have someone working with them to provide guidance and assistance," Schmidt said.
However, getting teachers who are fully licensed in special education is difficult because it requires more than a bachelor's degree, especially in an increasingly shrinking pool of applicants statewide, Schmidt said.
The shortage in special education also applies to teachers certified to teach gifted students, Schmidt said.
"At the beginning of this year we were going to hire one additional gifted teacher," Schmidt said.
However, the district wasn't able to find someone that met its qualification standards to fill the position so current gifted facilitators' workloads were adjusted to address the need, Schmidt said.
The proposal tabled by the board last week, included funding for up to $4,000 per year or $2,000 per semester. It also required teachers who would receive reimbursement teach for one year in the district as a special education or English language learner teacher for each semester of reimbursement. The proposal is subject to change, as it has not been approved by the school board nor negotiated with the De Soto Teacher's Association.
Schmidt said he didn't think teachers working toward a master's degree outside of special education would feel slighted by the exclusivity of the reimbursement program.
"When you look at programs like that we have to look at where our greatest need is," he said. "Any certified teacher can start a master's degree in special education."
Special education is the highest need statewide as well, said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for the Kansas Department of Education.
Most of the teacher shortage is because of the inability to fill voids left by retiring baby boomers, Dennis said.
"According to a legislative post audit about 25 percent of our teachers will be eligible to retire in the next five years," Dennis said. "Thirty-three percent of them are over the age of 50. There are more people to retire than there are entering the profession. Our school districts are working their tails off recruiting people and encouraging students to go into education."
Special education isn't the only category hurting for teachers statewide, Dennis said. Math and science teachers, especially for upper-level high school courses, are hard to come by. Dennis said he expects to see language arts, foreign language and technology teachers as well as counselors needed next.
Tuition reimbursement also is becoming more popular as shortages increase, Dennis said.
"It's growing because the shortage is so severe," he said.
Schmidt said the De Soto school district would do what it could to attract and retain teachers.
"Getting high quality teachers in front of kids is our number-one priority and we have to be able to attract and retain those people," Schmidt said. "It's absolutely a concern."