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Lawmakers scramble to address statewide educator shortage

David Reid against blue background
Craig Carper
VPM News file
Del. David Reid speaks in this undated photo.

The yearslong teacher and support staff shortage was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, Virginia lawmakers introduced numerous bills seeking to address the state’s teacher and support staff shortage, which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent state report, 15% of surveyed teachers said they were either definitely leaving — or likely to leave — their job at the end of the current school year.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing gap between the number of individuals leaving and entering the teaching profession. Before the pandemic, there were 800 vacant teaching positions statewide. By August 2022, there were about 3,300 teacher vacancies.

Del. David Reid (D–Loudoun) is sponsoring a bill to establish the Teacher Reengagement Program, which would allow school districts to bring back retired teachers for part-time work — as long as districts provide the same health care benefits available to full-time teachers.

“Retired teachers had said to me: ‘I'd be willing to come back and teach part-time just for the health care,’ because they did not want to be paid [full-time] and adversely affect their retirement income,” Reid told VPM News. "We need to stop talking about the fact that there's a teacher shortage, and we need to start putting money towards solving the problem."

The Teacher Reengagement Program has so far sailed through the General Assembly unscathed. However, a separate piece of legislation sponsored by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D–Ashburn) died in committee. That bill aimed to allow retired teachers, bus drivers and school security officers to return to full-time work after just six months instead of a year — and continue their pension benefits. Virginia has allowed teachers who come out of retirement to teach in an area of critical shortage to receive a new salary and continue collecting their pension since 2001.

Teacher training and retention roadblocks

Another bill from Reid to establish a competitive — and paid for — teacher training program at a handful of Virginia institutions did not make it out of a House committee earlier this month.

The program would have expanded an existing teacher residency at Virginia Commonwealth University, where students agree to work in a high-needs school for three years following the program.

Reid has also proposed a budget amendment to help fund a statewide teacher mentorship program called Reach Virginia, which he said has been self-funded until recently but needs help.

“We need to be able to mentor and retain our current teachers,” Reid told VPM News. “We need to figure out ways to bring retired teachers back into the workforce. And we need to figure out how to grow our own new teachers through good teaching programs.”

Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D–Prince William) proposed legislation to change an existing state scholarship program to incentivize teachers teaching at Title I schools. Her proposed changes would have provided up to $2,500 in annual grants that teachers could apply for over a five-year period.

“With this we are certain that they will be in a Title I school, and they won't go anywhere for five years while we’re helping them pay their loans,” Guzman told VPM News.

However, this incentive program did not make it out of the House. Neither did another piece of legislation, sponsored by Del. Carrie Coyner (R–Chesterfield), seeking to expand a different teacher incentive program. The Senate version of Coyner’s legislation, sponsored by Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D–Portsmouth), is still alive, but it’s headed to the House for consideration.

Guzman carried another bill that sought to expand the G3 program for Virginia community college students to include the K-12 teaching field. Right now, early childhood education is the only education-related field eligible for the program. This bill also didn’t make it out of the House.

Del. Mike Cherry (R–Colonial Heights) is carrying legislation to allow certain public Virginia institutions like Virginia State University and Norfolk State University to offer discounted tuition to out-of-state students who pursue a degree in high-demand fields like education and health care.

Cherry said the legislation will be a helpful recruitment tool for VSU, which he said enrolls a lot of out-of-state students from the northeast. The bill cleared the House unanimously and is now headed to the Senate.

“Based on the data we have, an overwhelming portion stay in Virginia. And so we want them to stay in Virginia and take these high-demand jobs that are in our local communities,” Cherry told VPM News. “COVID has done quite a number on our education system. And so we're hoping to motivate people, find people that are willing to take these credentialing classes to be in these high-demand fields that we're just not filling right now.”

This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.