Will Washington State’s New School Funding Plan Help Alleviate The Teacher Shortage?

Jul 17, 2017

Teachers have been in short supply in Washington state in recent years. In a survey of school principals last fall, 20 percent said they were in a crisis mode in terms of hiring certificated teachers, and another 70 percent said they were struggling but getting by.

Now that lawmakers have passed a new school funding plan, some education officials are expressing optimism that higher pay will attract more people into the field.

Karst Brandsma, superintendent of the South Kitsap School District, has experienced that teacher shortage firsthand.

He described a retirement ceremony where almost 50 teachers retired from the district.

"That was quite a talent drain that are leaving the ranks of public education,” Brandsma said.

The district is currently hiring teachers for everything from Spanish and German to special education and social studies, according to the web site.

The state’s plan would hike the minimum salary for a new teacher to $40,000, up from a little more than $35,000. And South Kitsap could pay teachers more on top of that because of an adjustment for higher housing prices.

Brandsma said he’s hopeful that will convince more college students to go into teaching.

“Having a competitive salary at least gets people talking about it as a possible major and future career, so I think that clearly helps,” he said.

But it's a complicated plan. Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson said she did a dance when she heard lawmakers had reached a deal. Still, she cautioned they will have to keep collaborating because there may be things they need to fix.

“People that don’t live in the budget office or live down at the classroom level, they don’t know the ramifications of the decisions they’ve made, and that’s why everyone’s so nervous now,” she said.

Bergeson is now interim dean of Pacific Lutheran University’s School of Education and Kinesiology, which trains undergraduates and graduate students to become teachers.

She said she has noticed a positive sign since the funding deal was struck: Districts that had seemed hesitant to hire have started calling her for references for her students.