By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Much like the Supreme Court’s split decision on gerrymandering this week, there was also a split decision on a two-year-in-the-making legislative report on teacher shortages in the state.
The report was ready to go a couple of weeks ago, but two sections — one on the school atmosphere created by the state’s divisive concepts law, and the other lamenting the increased politicization of public education —- drew concern from Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who sought to have them removed.
However, two House members Reps. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, and Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, worked to refine the language and garnered a third vote to pass a very similar report, while the chair of the committee, Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, filed a minority report removing the two findings in question.
Overall the report outlines the problems school districts face and recommends a number of options including changing some state requirements like the number of background checks needed and better reciprocity with surrounding states for teaching credentials.
The report notes the major reasons more graduating high school students are not drawn to the teaching profession and the reasons teachers are leaving the profession for a more financially rewarding and less stressful career.
The report states concerns about stress and burnout, student behavior and discipline, school culture and low salaries are driving many out of the profession, while fewer and fewer high school graduates choose teaching as a career.
The report notes the decline in education preparation programs is a nationwide problem that exists in New Hampshire as the number of graduates with an education major is declining throughout the University System of New Hampshire, which provides the vast majority of new teachers.
The report also finds that the lack of affordable housing is also impacting the teacher shortage as are non-paid practice teaching requirements and the number of background checks at the individual’s expense that are currently needed in law.
The report also notes New Hampshire teachers are paid significantly less than the national average, and in New England paid less than all other states except Maine, which is targeting higher first-year teacher pay to begin addressing its problem.
The committee’s report states it is a significant problem for a new educator with the average starting salary of $40,478, when the average cost of living in the state is $56,727 per year.
“Every day I hear from teachers across the state who are burnt out and feeling undervalued and under-appreciated,” said Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH. “It is encouraging to see lawmakers across the political spectrum agree that there is an educator shortage crisis in New Hampshire and that the state has a responsibility to help address it.”
She said the state’s property taxpayers cannot shoulder the burden of addressing the state’s teacher shortage alone, and need the state’s help. Tuttle was encouraged by the recommendations of instituting programs and compensation packages to help attract young teachers and retain experienced educators.
Among the recommendations in the report is to invest in proven recruitment and retention strategies at the state level. The report also seeks to have the state fund a rural and underserved area educator incentive program for higher education and additional money to help districts with recruitment targeting historic shortages for math, science and special education, improving low performing areas, and a salary bonus or loan forgiveness for those attending in-state institutions and practice in shortage areas, and in rural, underserved or high poverty districts.
And the committee recommends increased funding for poor and rural districts so they can better compete with property wealthier districts for the best teachers and grow “your own programs.”
The members also suggest improving state retirement system benefits for teachers to help with retention and attracting young people to the profession by making it more competitive with neighboring states.
What remains of the divisive concept section, does say “Teachers leaving the profession most often cite the climate and culture as the biggest factor in their departure from education and NH altogether.”
Tuttle said the section does not call for revisiting the divisive concepts law as the earlier version did.
“While the final report recognizes important concerns raised by educators about the increased politicization of their jobs, we are disappointed that previously drafted language calling for lawmakers to address the vaguely written banned concepts law, which has had a chilling effect on honest and accurate classroom instruction, was ultimately abandoned,” she said.
The report does say that law and several others have cast a pall over the teaching profession and suggests additional development to help clarify the law.
“In response to testimony and to better assist instructional staff in addressing controversial topics and critical thinking skills, it is recommended that professional development and post-secondary teacher preparation institutions offer instructional support on how to address controversial topics while encouraging critical thinking skills with pupils,” the report recommends.
The committee members do note the turnover rate for school administrators is high, and that also contributes to constant changes in “school culture.”
Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, also signed the report, while Rep. Oliver Ford, R-Chester, along with Ward did not sign the majority report.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.