Superintendents fear teacher shortage is near 'crisis situation'
Students are back in school, but there is a problem: some teachers are not back. Virginia education officials say there is a critical shortage of teachers across the state. Superintendents across southwest Virginia say it used to be that teacher openings were rare,but now, they are facing a very different reality. "There are some school divisions that one in every five classrooms is a substitute teacher," Wythe County Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry said. The problem is so dire there is a state panel dedicated to finding a solution. Perry serves on that council. Perry said, "There's got to be a point where we realize we're almost in a crisis situation. If we don't do something soon, we will have a very difficult time in the very near future." Perry said part of the problem is low salaries. He tells News 5 they are not allowing teachers to pay back their student loan debt. On top of that, we learned there are rising out of pocket costs for the state retirement system and health insurance. Russell County Superintendent Dr. Greg Brown said, "If we can find someone who's even provisionally licensed, we're excited." Brown said his schools are using retired teachers to fill vacancies. "It's a constant battle to staff your schools," Brown said. Another short-term solution they have offered is expanding provisional teaching licenses from three to five years. Typically, those licenses are approved for participants to teach during those three years while completing needed requirements. They also include revamping the standards on teachers evaluations like the Praxis test. Superintendents told us they often hire teachers in the area from schools like UVA-Wise, Emory & Henry, and Radford. There is further concern because even enrollment numbers in their teacher preparation programs are significantly down. We checked the numbers at UVA-Wise. In 2011, the teacher education program had 60 students enrolled. This year, that number is down to just 29.