Schools struggling to find teachers

Updated - 

Fewer teachers

The number of teaching licenses the Indiana Department of Education issued to first-time teachers fell by 63 percent from 2009/10 to 2013/14 -- though state officials said the most recent decline was at least partially the result of more rigorous testing. Excluding the more rigorous testing year, the number of licenses issued by the DoE fell by 31 percent from 2009/10 to 2012/13. The figures include teachers with licenses in multiple subject areas. The number of new teachers who obtained teaching licenses in the state has fallen 18.5 percent in the last four years.

Source: Data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Updated

GREENSBURG — Johnny Budd is struggling to find a math teacher for North Decatur High School.

The superintendent of Decatur County Community Schools has received no applications for the job.

Until a few days ago, he also had an open math teaching position at South Decatur High School. He recently filled the position with a certified teacher — though that teacher is not a math teacher and will have to get certified in teaching math before school begins in August.

School leaders in south-central Indiana are reporting that the number of applicants they get for teaching positions has declined in recent years. They blame primarily state funding constraints, which depress teacher wages, and a blame-the-teachers mentality of politicians and the media, which is pushing teachers out of the profession and prompting fewer high school grads to consider teaching an attractive career.

Budd said that the number of applicants has declined especially for math, sciences and foreign languages.

“It has become a real struggle,” Budd said. “The pool of applicants is definitely dried up.”

Tom Hunter, superintendent of Greensburg Community Schools, said he used to get 40 applications for open teaching positions. Today, he said, he is lucky if he gets 10. And for some open positions this year, the corporation received no applications.

Matt Vance, superintendent at Rush County schools, also said he is seeing fewer applicants, especially in math, science, special education and English.

“I think fewer people are going into the profession,” Vance said.

John Quick, superintendent at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp, said that elementary schools get plenty of applicants for teaching positions, but at the junior high and high school levels, administrators are having a tough time getting applications for foreign languages, science and math positions.

Quick said competition for teachers is high: Every math teacher his schools interview usually gets a handful of job offers.

Fewer people study teaching

Universities are reporting that fewer students want to become teachers — at least in certain fields.

At Indiana State University, enrollment in the elementary education program has remained steady, but other areas, especially sciences, are seeing fewer students, said Judy Sheese, assistant dean for teacher education at the university’s Bayh College of Education.

She said she gets weekly — if not daily — calls from principals asking whether the university has any seniors who will soon graduate with a degree in math or English.

“We don’t have any,” she said.

The Muncie Star-Press recently reported that enrollment in Ball State University’s elementary and kindergarten teacher-preparation programs fell by 45 percent in the last decade.

Hunter said that officials from Indiana and Purdue universities have reported similar declines.

Annual state data reveal that the number of new teachers who obtained teaching licenses from the state has fallen by 18.5 percent in the last four years.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the state issued in the 2009/10 school year about 5,600 licenses to first-time teachers. In 2013/14, the most recent year for which data were available, the state issued just 4,565 licenses, a decline of more than 1,000.

The number of licenses the state issued to first-time teachers, including teachers with licenses in multiple subject areas, fell by an even greater margin. In the 2009/10, the state issued to new teachers 16,578 licenses. By 2012/13, the number of licenses had fallen to 11,397, or down 31.3 percent. By 2013/14, the figure dropped to 10,404, down 62.8 percent from 2009/10 — though state officials attribute part of the most recent decline to more rigorous testing.

Other types of licenses, including for substitute teachers, have declined, too. The number of substitute licenses fell 17 percent between 2009/10 and 2013/14. And the number of emergency permits dropped 14 percent during that span.

Transition-to-teaching programs, through which students can become teachers after studies in another field, play only a small role, state officials said.

Sheese, from ISU, said, ISU’s transition to teaching program has received so little interest that the university has put the program on hold.

Money and reputation

The superintendents said interest in a teaching career is declining because of low pay and teachers’ eroding reputation, especially among media and politicians.

Hunter said that when politicians continually “badmouth” public school teachers, they should not be surprised when fewer people want to become teachers.

Budd and Quick agreed.

“As a group, teachers have been targeted by politicians and the media as doing a poor job,” Budd said.

And, Quick said, when the state restricts teacher compensation, reduces teachers’ ability to bargain and increases standardized testing, fewer young people believe that teaching is a good career.

“I think it’s a direct result of the kind of policies and the kind of press that (have) been coming out … in the last decade or so,” Quick said.

In addition, Budd and Hunter said, the cost of college keeps increasing while teaching salaries are stagnating.

The math for teachers is getting more difficult, Hunter said. Why would one want to spend $80,000 on a college education for a $35,000 job, he asked. With student loans, car payments and rent, that kind of salary leaves little to raise a family, he said.

And schools have not been able to give significant — or any — raises in the last few years, Budd said.

When the state switched the funding of schools from local property taxes to the state a few years ago, schools saw their funding cut by millions of dollars.

Until the 2009/10 school year, schools’ General Fund, the main operating fund that primarily pays for staffing salaries and benefits, was funded by local property taxes. A year later, schools received money for that fund exclusively from the state, which allotted schools a certain amount of money per student, plus additional dollars depending on a complex formula that aimed to reflect how many families in the district live in poverty.

According to the Indiana State Board of Accounts, Greensburg schools’ main operating fund for the 2009/2010 school year received $16.7 million from local property taxes. A year later, when money came from the state, funding fell by more than $3.7 million, or 22.5 percent. Funding for Rush County Schools fell 13.5 percent, for Decatur County Community Schools funds dropped 12.3 percent. Bartholomew County’s funding fell from $91.9 million to $76.5 million.

Even today, most of the schools continue to operate on millions of dollars less per year than in 2009/10, according to the ISBA.

To make up for state funding declines, schools have enticed older, more experienced — and expensive — teachers to retire early, to replace them with younger, less expensive colleagues.

Quick, the superintendent in Bartholomew County, said that when schools can replace a few teachers who earn $70,000 with a few teachers who earn $40,000, they can use the difference to give raises to the rest of the staff.

But, he said, now that schools are struggling to find replacements for the retiring teachers, they are facing a dilemma: They can provide incentives for older teachers to retire and risk not being able to find replacements — or they can hold on to the older teachers for as long as they can and risk losing younger teachers to other schools — or professions — because schools cannot afford to give raises.

Quick said that his schools offered an incentive to older teachers this year to retire early. The good news, he said: Thirty-nine teachers accepted. The bad news, he said: Thirty-nine teachers accepted.

“It’s tough getting replacements,” he said.

Shortage, then crisis

A report by the Alliance for Excellent Education last year indicated that about half of all new teachers leave the profession after five years, citing reasons including “inadequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, low salaries, and a lack of collective teacher influence over schoolwide decisions.”

For the state of Indiana, the high turnover among teachers results in annual costs to the state of between $20 million and $45 million, according to the report.

Quick and Hunter said they fear that unless the state takes actions soon, the current struggles will get worse, and the state will have to worry about not just fiscal problems, but societal ones.

“There’s a teacher shortage right now,” Hunter said. “In five years it’s going to be a crisis.”

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com.