Higher pay would solve special ed teacher shortage

Higher pay would solve special ed teacher shortage

(Calif.) The non-partisan Legislative Analyst has come out strongly against the governor’s plan for increasing the number of special education teachers as part of his January budget.

Citing ongoing shortages of properly certified teachers to serve the state’s 700,000 students with disabilities, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed two $50 million grant programs to help districts and colleges recruit and train new special education teachers.

The LAO, however, argued in a report released last week that Brown’s plan won’t solve the shortage problem.

“Neither proposal addresses the core local-level causes of shortages—most notably, the ability to pay special education teachers the ongoing compensation needed to attract and retain the requisite number of staff,” the LAO said. “Additionally, neither proposal addresses the core state-level causes of teacher shortages—most notably, overly restrictive education and credentialing requirements.”

Currently, schools across California employ close to 48,000 teachers credentialed to serve SWD. Additionally, there are another 24,000 specialists who are not credentialed but typically are licensed by a national professional organization to provide specific services to SWD such as sign language interpretation.

Schools all over the country have complained of staffing shortages in special education going back decades, but the problem remains. Indeed, just three states—Alaska, Georgia and New Mexico—did not report having a shortage in 2017, according to the LAO.

The LAO contends that one of the primary barriers to getting more college students to go into special education is pay.

“School districts generally do not differentiate pay levels between special education and general education teachers,” the LAO said. “Special education teachers, however, typically have additional responsibilities, such as developing detailed and time-consuming individual education plans for each of their students.”

The LAO suggests that legislative leaders consider ways to raise the pay of special education teachers and their supporting specialists as a first step.

“Higher pay would encourage more teachers to pursue special education over general education by acknowledging and compensating them for the additional responsibilities they perform,” the LAO said.

Brown’s plan calls for the creation of two grants:

  • Teacher Residency Grant: As proposed, the state would provide $50 million to fund competitive grants on a one-time basis to local educational agencies. LEAs would be required to partner with colleges or universities to prepare and recruit new teachers in special education and provide a match on a dollar for dollar basis. Grant awards would be for up to $20,000 per teacher candidate and the grants would be administered by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
  • Local Solutions Grant: Another $50 million would be provided under a competitive setting that would also be overseen by the CTC and require a local match. Awards would be up to $20,000 per candidate.

The LAO argued that the residency program would produce a relatively small number of new teachers at a high cost. They said that some districts are already using some of their general fund money on similar programs, suggesting the Legislature doesn’t need to interject itself.

The LAO also said that the Local Solution Grant is too broadly defined and unlikely to succeed.

Overall, they said, the governor’s plan is attempting to use one-time money to solve a long-standing problem.

Instead the LAO has several recommendations:

  • Consolidate the mild/moderate and moderate/severe credentials into one core special education credential.

“Although students with different kinds of disabilities can require different kinds of support, we think one training program could impart to teacher candidates the range of strategies they likely would need,” the LAO said.

  • Eliminate the physical and health impairment credential and the language and academic development credential.

“These credentials are seldom issued and inconsistently used across districts,” they said.

  • Create a four-year degree option for special education teachers—similar to recently enacted legislation providing a four-year option for general education elementary school teachers.

“A four-year degree option would allow students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in special education and a teaching credential in special education within four years of study, reducing the time and cost required to enter the field,” the LAO recommended.

  • Provide the California State University system targeted enrollment funding to admit more qualified students into two of its graduate specialist programs—occupational therapy and speech and language pathology programs.

“These are the areas that currently have the most acute specialist staffing shortages. We think CSU likely could increase enrollment in these programs by about 5 percent per year (or 45 FTE students in 2018-19),” they said.

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