Indiana grants $5 million to bolster teacher pipeline; opinions differ on extent of need

(The Center Square) – The Indiana Department of Education will spend $5 million of the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to attract and retain teachers in the…

(The Center Square) – The Indiana Department of Education will spend $5 million of the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to attract and retain teachers in the state.

“Like most employers, Indiana’s schools are not immune from the challenges of today’s labor market,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a statement. “As schools work to recruit and retain top talent, we must work with urgency to not just admire the problem, but to support schools with the resources they need to best support our students.”

However, observers differ on the extent of the difficulty in staffing Indiana classrooms.

According to an annual survey conducted by Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education, 96.5% respondents reported teacher shortages in 2021, the highest in the last seven years, according to a Tribune-Star report.

Some 199 school districts and charter schools participated in the survey. Indiana has 290 public school systems.

“This year and last have brought more challenges than many previous,” ISU professor Terry McDaniel reportedly told the Tribune-Star. “As a result, we are seeing educators being burned-out, scared, disappointed, and no longer enjoying the profession. We are also seeing fewer people entering the profession.”

Rebecca Estes, senior director of Educator Talent/Leadership and Innovation at the DOE, suggested that it’s important to not take any one piece of data out of context.

Estes warned of the danger of over-reliance on qualitative evidence such as anecdotes or individual experiences in the absence of statistical data.

“An example of this is when we hear very general statements like ‘There is an educator shortage,’” Estes said in a presentation obtained by The Center Square.

Estes provided data showing that the number of Indiana students has decreased slightly over the last eight years while the number of teachers has grown by more than 650. As a result, the student-to-teacher ratio dropped from 17.3 to 16.9 from 2012 to 2021.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics confirms this trend. After a brief rise to a peak of 18.5, Indiana’s student-to-teacher ratio has been falling since 2018.

Estes and McDaniel agree that a teacher shortage does exist in special education.

The ISU survey indicated special education and math had the most acute need for teachers. Data provided by the DOE indicates the number of special education students has risen by 9% since 2012 while the number of teachers has decreased by 13%.

The DOE job bank lists more 2,300 open school teacher positions in the state, which accounts for nearly 4% of teaching jobs according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

DOE spokeswoman Holly Lawson told The Center Square that may partly be due to seasonal movement of teachers from one school to another. Lawson added that “schools are pursuing candidates from every pathway into the profession – especially in high-need areas such as special education and STEM subjects.”

The DOE Attract, Prepare and Retain grants will be made to schools and community partners and can be used for a variety of initiatives that increase leadership or career advancement opportunities for educators, including helping high school students and underrepresented populations enter the profession.