Kentucky lawmakers try to solve teacher shortage

(The Center Square) – Kentucky school districts looking to fill teacher shortages in the classroom may be able to look just across the state line for a solution, state lawmakers learned.

The General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education received a presentation on Grow Your Own, a Tennessee Department of Education initiative helping students and professionals become educators.

Teacher shortages are not new, Emma McCallie, Grow Your Own’s senior director, told Kentucky lawmakers, and there’s not one program that can address all the causes for the shortages. However, she said the program is helping alleviate the problem in several ways.

Not only does it provide compensation for apprentices and on-the-job training with access to mentors but Grow Your Own is also finding local candidates to fill positions. McCallie said that has benefits in the classroom.

“We know the research supports that teachers who reflect certain identity components of their students translate to higher student outcomes,” she said.

Tennessee became the first state to receive federal approval for a teacher apprenticeship program. The U.S. Department of Labor signed off on an initiative for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. That district is working with Austin Peay State University on an apprenticeship program with 20 high school students and 20 paraprofessionals in classrooms this fall.

Teacher shortages are becoming prevalent in Kentucky across school districts of all sizes. The Louisville Courier Journal reported last month that from August 2021 to this past July, 393 teachers resigned from Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district. According to the paper, that was the highest one-year total in recent years.

Mike Borchers, the superintendent of Ludlow Independent Schools, told lawmakers that a survey of 22 Northern Kentucky districts found 77 certified teacher openings unfilled and 96 others covered by emergency certified staff members. Beyond that, those districts also have more than 500 eligible for retirement.

“This is something that we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years, and all of our superintendents are looking at unique ways to fill that,” Borchers said.