State Policymakers Consider Teacher Workforce Issues

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This post is part of an ongoing effort to share our information request service and to highlight key education issues that states are addressing across the country.

As we surpass the one-year mark of the pandemic, state policymakers continue to grapple with profound issues impacting student opportunity and success. College access and affordability, school funding and accountability are all top of mind as state leaders navigate a rapidly changing education landscape, and Education Commission of the States is here to serve as a trusted advisor. During the month of March, ECS staff responded to over 60 information requests on issues across the P-20 spectrum.

Teacher workforce issues have posed a persistent challenge to state policymakers and were especially prevalent in information requests last month. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, fears around potential teacher layoffs caused by budget cuts were a focus of national attention. While state budgets may not have been hit as hard as initially feared, retirements and teachers exiting the workforce has renewed concerns about already widespread teacher shortages.

The uncertainty around state budgets and teacher labor markets, including the possibility of increased attrition and retirements, has left many state policymakers concerned about recruiting and retaining effective teachers. One requestor was specifically interested in comprehensive state approaches to recruitment and retention. Our 50-State Comparison of teacher recruitment and retention policies provides information on shortage data, recruitment programs, compensation and other financial incentives, and ongoing teacher supports. Our staff also cited a report profiling Washington as an example of a state with a coherent vision for a healthy teacher pipeline outlined in their professional educator standards board’s strategic plan.

States have also expressed interest in recruitment and retention efforts that specifically target teachers of color to address shortages and to create a workforce that better reflects and meets the needs of students. Our Policy Brief on Building a Diverse Teacher Workforce provides an extensive review of state policies to develop a more diverse workforce, but one constituent asked how states have leveraged federal funding for teacher diversity initiatives.

To answer this question, our staff highlighted Title II, Part A funding in ESSA, which has been used to advance  grow-your-own programs, induction and mentoring, and data systems, among other recruitment efforts. The response also included information on the state expenditure of CARES Act funding to support teacher diversity efforts. Specifically, Minnesota used $5 million on “targeted support of teacher preparation programs” with priority given to programs serving students and faculty representing “people of color, [indigenous people, people with disabilities and people from lower-income backgrounds].”

Finally, teacher compensation continues to drive debate in state government nationwide, and our constituents have been curious about policy movement in this area. ECS staff identified multiple proposed bills tracked in our education policy watchlist, as well as proposals for teacher pay increases included in governors’ State of the State addresses.  A review of governors’ addresses found that 19 states proposed increases in teacher compensation, including Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s call for $2.5 million in incentives to increase starting teacher pay, which is cited in ECS’ 2021 State of the State addresses report.

For additional information on these issues, as well as other teacher workforce policies, consult our Teaching Profession key issues page.

Author profile
Policy Researcher at Education Commission of the States | berwin@ecs.org

As a policy researcher, Ben works on tracking legislation, answering information requests and contributing to other policy team projects. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, he taught high school social studies in Kentucky and worked in education policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. He earned a master's degree in education policy from the University of Colorado Boulder and a bachelor's degree in history and education from Transylvania University.

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