Lawmakers seek to address teacher shortage in Louisiana

The Louisiana Senate on Wednesday introduced a bill to make it easier for retired teachers to return to work to help ease statewide shortages.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, the bill’s sponsor, said it addresses the shortage of teachers and other staff. Math, science, English, language arts and special education have all been identified as shortage areas requiring certified teachers.

Current law suspends retirement benefits for many teachers who return to work based on when they retired. Fields’ bill would increase the number of certified teachers in any subject who could return without losing their retirement pay. This would include anyone who retired before July 1, 2020.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee introduced a bill Wednesday to maintain a database with training courses and requirements teachers must meet to become certified. The new database would allow new and experienced teachers to keep up to date with new regulations relating to professional certifications.

“We have a new social studies standard that’s come out,” author Rep. Buddy Mincey, R-Livingston, “We [need to] retrain our teachers on what it is.

Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Bogalusa, pointed to a potential conflict in hiring retired teachers over new teachers.

“The only thing worse than not having people graduating as teachers,” Mizell said, “is people graduating as teachers and not getting jobs.”

Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, added an amendment to Fields’ bill. The amendment would require schools to first contact colleges within 120 miles about a job opportunity before giving it to a returning retiree.

“I want to make sure that people who are in college, who are in training, have the opportunity to do these jobs,” Peacock said. “I don’t want them to be forgotten.”

However, the number of new teachers coming out of state universities has dropped sharply as teacher salaries in Louisiana are below the Southern average.

“When I was in college, the biggest department at Southern University was the education department,” Fields said, adding that it’s now one of the smallest colleges with just three. members of a recent promotion.

LSU’s School of Education reported that its Geaux Teach STEM department, which was founded to inspire a new generation of science and technology teachers, produced 30 graduates seven years ago but is now producing one. dozen at most.

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And it’s not just teachers who face shortages.

For schools looking for staff psychologists, “the situation is dire,” said Amber Harris, state delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists and board member of the Louisiana School Psychological Association.

The national association recommends that schools employ psychologists at the rate of one for every 500 students in a district. The rate in Louisiana is one psychologist for every 3,300 students. Louisiana ranks in the bottom 10 out of the 50 states.

“We have a handful of school psychologists who are willing to come back to work if it doesn’t impact their retirement,” Harris said, referring to rules that cut or suspend pension benefits for retired employees of the school. school going back to work.

According to Harris, Ouachita Parish had 12 school psychologists for the district, now it has three. Morehouse Parish had three. Now he has one.

“We have to do something,” Harris said. “Because it has long-term social ramifications because these children are not being educated and their mental health is not being taken care of as it should be in schools.”

Chris Broadwater, vice president of workforce policy and general counsel for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, also spoke about the shortages facing higher education as well.

“The vast majority of the conversation surrounding these bills has focused on the K-12 class,” Broadwater said. “But I want you to realize this isn’t just a problem for K-12 systems.”

Broadwater said most of the highly technical instructors in its system are reaching retirement age and have no incentive to stay in class. Broadwater points to both their low wages and the inadequate benefits of returning to work after retirement.

“We’re looking for a lifeline in some of these places,” Broadwater said.

Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana system, said his schools are struggling to find instructors for nursing and health care complexes. It is very difficult to find and retain these instructors, he said, because they have to compete with the advantages of the private sector.

“One of our challenges is that many retired faculty nurses have participated in a defined benefit program that encourages them to leave teaching simply because they lose money every time they come to work” , Henderson said.

Instructor shortages in higher education are not yet included in bills introduced by lawmakers, but Broadwater and Henderson hope to add existing bills to help alleviate these issues.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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