Legislators considering steps to tackle Oregon’s shortage of teachers

Retention and recruitment bonuses, allowing teachers with out-of-state licenses to work in Oregon and paring back teacher requirements expected to relieve shortages

By: - February 14, 2022 6:00 am

Julie Cleavem a reading specialist, works with students at Hallman Elementary School in Salem. (Fred Joe/Salem Reporter)

A proposal to make it easier and more lucrative to teach in Oregon is being heard by the public and lawmakers after a work group spent months looking for solutions to the state’s teacher workforce shortages. 

House Bill 4030 started as a placeholder bill – essentially a blank page with the directive from House Education Committee Chair Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, that lawmakers find ways to recruit and retain more school staff and handle teacher workforce shortages in the state that have been exacerbated by Covid. 

Statewide, districts have reported shortages of teachers in specific areas like English-language learning and special education, among paraprofessionals as well as substitute teachers and other vital school employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

According to a report from state employment economists Gail Krumenauer and Anna Johnson at the Oregon Employment Department, public schools eliminated about 7,200 jobs between the winter and spring of 2020 due to Covid shuttering schools, and by spring 2021, had only added back about 1,100 of those jobs. Hiring did ramp up for the return to fully in-person instruction last fall, but schools were not able to fill all openings, the report said.

The proposal includes changes to teacher licensing that would allow people with out-of-state teacher’s licenses to work in Oregon without relicensing, would pare back professional development requirements for certification and recertification and would provide money to refund substitute teachers and teaching assistants for training costs incurred in order to get certified. 

The proposal would also reduce the number of background checks candidates must submit too, which can hold up the certification processes, suspend classroom reporting requirements that are not required by federal law and direct the Oregon Department of Education to create a statewide jobs portal, so that candidates can apply for jobs across districts, rather than going to individual school district websites.

Lastly, the proposal would ask the legislature to approve additional funding for schools to use as bonuses to recruit and retain teachers and other school personnel.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, suggested that federal Covid-relief dollars could also be used by schools to pay such bonuses. 

One solution struck from the proposal would have required employees of state agencies who are credentialed teachers, to spend at least five days teaching each year. 

Dembrow said though it didn’t make it into the current iteration of the bill, “I still believe there’s an argument to be made for expecting people working in education policy to have ongoing classroom experience. But, there are a lot of questions about how that would work.”

The bill was unanimously accepted by the House Education Committee, and will next go to the House Rules Committee and then to the Joint Committee On Ways and Means before being voted on by the legislature.

In December, Dembrow, convened a work group of teachers, school employees, education groups and unions to recommend ways to recruit and retain more school staff. What they found was the lack of substitute teachers was having a ripple effect on all teachers, who were needed to cover other classes and give up their planning time. They also had little to no time to intervene when student behavioral issues arose, and reported high levels of stress from the staff and parent meetings, paperwork, new Covid protocols and pressure to catch-up from last year that they were under. 

Dembrow said the lack of teachers and assistants for special education classes was a “crisis in special education.”

At a hearing over the proposed teacher workforce solutions on Tuesday, Feb. 8, Angela Adzima, an elementary school teacher in Hillsboro who works with students with disabilities, testified about her experience of the last year, and said that she’s been pulled from her special education work to be an emergency substitute teacher full time. 

Adzima said on most days, the district needed roughly 150 substitute teachers, and only about half of those go filled. 

“Our other staff members are either giving up their planning time to teach when no substitute can be found, or another person is pulled from the support division to cover the class. Oftentimes, these classes are combined in common areas or libraries so that one teacher can cover multiple classes,” said Adzima

Zachary Meltzer, a high school teacher in the Parkrose School District and the president of the local teachers’ union also gave testimony on the unintended consequences of allowing the teacher workforce to go understaffed and under-resourced.

“When you feel that you’re continually failing at your job – whether you’re short on resources, or overworked or there are too many different positions that you’re trying to fill – it really takes a toll,” he said.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt is a reporter for Oregon Capital Chronicle. She has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.