Washington has more teachers, in spite of a reported critical educator shortage

(The Center Square) – A Central Washington University report in 2016 declared that there was a teacher shortage in the state of Washington. Since then there have been numerous claims of a teacher shortage through the latest school year.

However, national data from the country’s largest teachers’ union shows that from 2013 to 2020, enrollment has stayed about the same while there are 15% more classroom teachers in Washington.

In March 2022, KOMO TV reported that the Washington Education Association expects the teacher shortage to grow worse.

“We know we’re going to have open positions for next year,” Kathryn McCarthy, spokesperson for Tacoma Public Schools, said. “We’re looking for special education teachers, like in any district. Also, in math and science.”

Additionally, the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board released a 2021 report claiming there was a teacher shortage.

Enrollment in Washington’s public K-12 schools has been stagnant, with just 700 more students in 2020 as compared to 2013, according to the National Education Association. There were 1,060,998 students in 2020. But the number of public school teachers in Washington has increased during that seven-year span from 54,725 to 62,791.

PESB doesn’t see teacher shortages equally across school systems. The board calculates shortages “by adding the number of educators with a limited certificate in a specific content area to the number of individuals teaching out-of-endorsement in that area,” according to their 2021 Educator Shortage Report.

PESB also reported that rural Washington school districts are having difficulty retaining qualified educators. Their solution to fix this is to provide loan forgiveness or longevity stipends for teaching in the rural areas of Washington.

“Additionally, we are still learning about how the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on student enrollment and the educator shortage,” Austin Majors, the interim director of communications at PESB said to The Center Square in an email.

One indicator PESB used to declare a teacher shortage was the volume of emergency certificates that were issued in Washington schools following the board’s policy decision in March 2020. These were 46% of the 3,066 candidates to receive a teaching certificate in 2020 and then be retained as teachers the following year. In 2018, two years prior, 74% of candidates were employed the following year, according to the PESB 2021 Educator Shortage Report.

The number of teachers employed in Washington public schools went from 63,072 in the 2019-2020 school year to 62,791 in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the National Education Association. That is a decrease equaling less than 1%.

The U.S. Department of Education has tracked teacher shortages in specific subject matters since 1990. States have been lacking teachers in certain areas for decades. In Washington, the most common shortages were in special education, career and technical education and advanced science and math focuses.

The number one teacher role experiencing staffing shortages in 2021 was elementary education, followed by special education, according to PESB.

The state of Washington has had a teacher shortage in special education going back more than 30 years, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

The Washington Education Association didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.