In the coming legislative session, if lawmakers are serious about quality education for all children in Mississippi, they must address the state's teacher shortage. File Photo
It's a vicious cycle, really. Rural districts in sparsely populated Delta communities struggle to recruit teachers to come live there. Majority-black districts, a large percentage of which are dubbed "failing" by the state's accountability standards, are fighting not only racial but socioeconomic segregation, but also struggle to recruit teachers. A handful of districts in the state are on probation due to a lack of qualified staff. Part of their corrective action plans submitted to the Commission on School Accreditation and the Mississippi Board of Education early next year will have to include plans to certify and ultimately recruit staff by July 2018.
"In order to comply with Process Standard 2.2, all District professional positions requiring licensed staff shall be filled by staff who are properly licensed and endorsed as required by policy, state law, and federal requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," a part of the JPS investigative audit says.
Technically, if districts on probation due to a lack of licensed staff can't come up with certified staff by next July, they could be in danger of losing their accreditation, and they means a state takeover. It is time to look at solutions beyond takeovers to address teacher shortages, however.
The teacher shortage is real—so real, in fact, that Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Glenn Boyce made a point to say so in his public comments to the media this month at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum. He called the teacher shortage "serious," an issue the state should address.
In the coming legislative session, if lawmakers are serious about quality education for all children in Mississippi, they must address the state's teacher shortage. This will more than likely mean targeting funding to districts in the Delta, and "failing" all-black school districts. Discussions of a proposed new education funding formula have included the term "equity," which would mean funding those districts in disadvantaged positions. This is an admirable idea and concept if adhered to, but lawmakers need to understand that in order for a new formula or for a state school system to be "equitable," sacrifices will need to be made. Perhaps the School Recognition Program could be rewritten to target districts with teacher shortages or in danger of state takeover. Maybe a new formula could target districts with teacher shortages, giving funds for incentives.
In Mississippi, where a majority of children attend public schools, it is vital for lawmakers to invest in good teachers in all classrooms. Teachers are a factor in how schools and districts receive grades each October when accountability rankings come out. Are teachers qualified to teach students, and prepare them to pass those state tests? Without qualified teachers, how can we blame poor academic performance on students? Without support, either through teacher incentives or programs like Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has suggested such as teacher villages, how can these districts keep up? There are no clear answers to solve the national or statewide teacher crisis, but the Legislature needs to start addressing the issue now—before it's too late.