No debate over special ed teacher shortage, just remedy

No debate over special ed teacher shortage, just remedy

(Calif.) The governor’s plan to provide $100 million in one-time money to support the preparation and retention of special education teachers probably won’t solve California’s long-standing shortages, a representative of the non-partisan Legislative Analyst said Tuesday.

Last year the state issued about 12,000 emergency teaching permits for all classrooms and is on track to issue about the same number this year. Along with technical subjects—like math and science–the greatest shortage statewide is in special education.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed as part of his January budget to fund two programs both with $50 million:

  • A teacher residency grant to help local educational agencies partner with colleges or universities to prepare and recruit new teachers in special education and provide a match on a dollar for dollar basis.
  • A locally-driven grant aimed at funding new and creative ideas for solving special education shortages.

But Jennifer Kuhn, deputy legislative analyst and head of the agency’s education unit, said that neither program is likely to provide long-term solutions because neither addresses the key issues of compensation and credentialing requirements.

“The state has tried lots of things on the margin for a long time,” Kuhn told members of the Assembly budget subcommittee on school finance. “I think what we are hearing this year is a lot of the same things on a one-time basis.

“You can do that, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” Kuhn said. “If the state wants to be five years down the road in a fundamentally different position, it has to think about fundamentally different ways of going about dealing with this issue.”

Despite an investment of close to $70 million by the Legislature during the past two years in teacher recruitment and retention programs, 80 percent of districts statewide said they continue to struggle to find candidates for empty positions, according to a February report from the Learning Policy Institute.

In addition to the staffing problem, state records show that two thirds of the 228 districts identified in the most recent performance review as needing technical assistance—what might otherwise be characterized as a failing grade—received the designation because of the poor showing of their special education students in state testing.

Mary Sandy, executive director of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, disagreed with the LAO and called the governor’s $100 million proposal an essential next step.

“The $50 million going to teacher residency will build infrastructure and capacity,” she said, noting that this one program could result in bringing in 2,500 new special education teachers in the next three to five years.

She said the other $50 million for local solutions is likely to be also successful because districts have an array of unique problems. One common idea, she said, is for districts to use the money to help pay off loans encumbered by new teachers.

Although the subcommittee took no action Tuesday, the LAO made several specific recommendations.

One that the Legislature should reject the governor’s twin $50 million programs and use the money elsewhere, including a salary differential for special education teachers.

They also want the state to consolidate special education credentials and seek preparation pathways that would reduce the time it would take to attain state certification.

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