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Opinion

Reichman: Teacher shortage solution unclear, but funding is a good start

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At the start of Arizona’s 2023-2024 school year, 30% of teaching positions for schools across the state remained unfilled. With high turnover rates due to lack of resources, low pay, and the culmination of these factors ultimately affecting student behavior and learning, more teachers quit every year.

Furthermore, 53% of vacancies are being filled by underqualified teachers who do not meet the state’s standard certification requirements. This public-school staffing crisis within the state has consistently been on the rise each school year, with a 6% increase from the 2022-2023 school year.

Currently, around 40% of Arizona students need specialized instruction, bilingual education, and one-on-one daily guidance, making the teacher shortage problem increasingly difficult to solve. Not only are there not enough qualified teachers to fill positions in public schools, but this shortage has an even greater impact on specialized schools who cater to specific populations, such as the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB).

ASDB is facing this very problem and is in dire need of qualified teaching candidates. With 32 current vacancies across three ASDB campuses, and a desired student teacher ratio of 8 to 1, ASDB continues to search for new and innovative ways to recruit and ultimately retain teachers with the required teacher training for deaf and visually impaired students.

ASDB serves more than 2,000 students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind from birth through high school. To instruct these students, educators need special certifications—specifically, Teaching for Visually Impaired (TVI) and Teaching for the Deaf (TOD) certifications—which can only be obtained with a master’s degree. Preparation programs for these certifications have been on the decline, thus there is a decline in teachers with these certifications. Additionally, ASDB has seen a stark decline in practicum students for the current 2023-2024 school year: the 2022-2023 school year had 30 practicum students and this year, there are only two.

This national teacher shortage is further exacerbated by the lack of funding for public schools and specialized institutions alike. ASDB’s continuation bill, HB2456, should have extended funding for another eight years. However, in March 2023, the Arizona Senate voted to fund ASDB for merely two years, rather than the regular eight-year commitment.

Shortly after HB2456 was passed, Governor Katie Hobbs signed a bill that guaranteed ASDB would be funded for the next four years. However, this highlights the possible uncertain future of an institution which has been serving students since the state of Arizona received its statehood. Yet, new teachers looking for a specialized school to teach at may be leery to apply to ASDB given these shorter continuation time periods.

With the combination of a rising teacher shortage, especially in specialized institutions, and a debate around the funding of ASDB, the number of teacher applicants is surely bound to continue, if not worsen. Support from educators, government officials, and donors is essential to keep schools like ASDB running. Students at ASDB depend on specialized instruction to receive an education that suits their needs. With qualified teachers and appropriate funding, students with visual and hearing impairments can be prepared for whatever comes after high school graduation and succeed in whatever path they choose.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at AzOpinions@iniusa.org.