The message from Louisiana’s education officials to state lawmakers was clear: the teacher deficit in K-12 schools has reached crisis proportions.
“This is a crisis for us. We need more teachers,” Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed told the House Education Committee during a hearing Thursday at the State Capitol.
Ronnie Morris, a substitute teacher in East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes, is a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. He told legislators that he asked a class of high school pupils what they would do if they could alter anything.
“A couple of students raised their hand and very sincerely said, ‘Mr. Morris, can you get me a teacher?’” he said.
Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley told the committee that there are around 2,500 certified teaching openings across the state.
If you do the arithmetic and assume that those teacher shortages affect 2,500 classrooms with an average of 20 kids each, Brumley estimates that around 50,000 Louisiana K-12 children are impacted by teacher vacancies.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education’s website, there are around 700,000 K-12 pupils enrolled in public schools.
The teacher deficit is putting a pressure on not just pupils, but also instructors who are expected to pick up the slack.
“Teachers are having to use their planning period to go in and fill substitute positions,” Morris said, “and then oftentimes that’s not enough.”
To comply, schools are having to increase class numbers, putting even more strain on overworked teachers, according to Morris. Because there aren’t enough instructors to educate them, several schools have crammed big groups of pupils into cafeterias or gyms.
“That’s not school,” he said. “That’s just babysitting, and we can do better than that.”
In Louisiana, around 3,231 students finished a bachelor’s degree program to become educators in 2011. Since then, the number has decreased to 2,743, implying that almost 500 fewer teachers are joining the field than a decade ago.
In an effort to address the teacher shortage, the committee approved a bill to create the Geaux Teach Fund, authored by Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. The scholarship program would “create an opportunity for us to go into our high schools and recruit some of our best and brightest students across Louisiana and ask for them to consider a career in education,” Brumley said.
“We’ve got to be passionate about changing the methodology, and we’ve got to be people that go out and sell the need for education,” Thompson said.
The measure does not include any funding for the fund from the state. It would also require the education department to develop regulations governing eligibility, monetary amounts, and later implementation.
“We’re trying to create the bank account today, and we’ll have to worry about putting the funds in the account later,” Brumley said.