The number of teachers entering the profession in Louisiana is declining, and state lawmakers may launch a study on just why it is happening.
"Like many states, we do have a shortage of teachers in specific subject areas and certain schools and geographies," said Hannah Dietsch, assistant state superintendent of education for talent in the state Department of Education.
One possible solution is to make it more lucrative for retired teachers to resume their duties, said state Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, a certified elementary school teacher himself. "When they retire and leave, replacing them is problematic at best," he said.
One thing the state cannot do is to expect an influx of new teachers.
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Students finishing teacher preparation programs has dropped 18 percent in Louisiana since the 2010-11 school year, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education. A total of 2,299 students finished teaching requirements in 2014-15, down from 2,802 in 2010.
The state's drop is part of a nationwide trend, where the decline in the number of those finishing teacher requirements has dropped 20 percent.
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The shortage is especially acute in math, science and special education classes.
Rural areas are especially feeling the problem.
"Unless they grew up in the area, they don't want to go back and live there," Bagley said.
However, school districts in Baton Rouge and other urban areas are also feeling the pinch.
Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said high-paying jobs in petrochemical and other plants are luring teachers and coaches out of the classroom.
"When you are a (plant) operator you actually get overtime," Courville said.
He said finding teachers for special education and special education classes "has always been and has gotten worse."
Bagley wants to set up a 20-member task force to study the issue, including which areas have the biggest shortage, how to keep current teachers in the classroom and what other states are doing. The panel would include local superintendents, including East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake, state lawmakers and representatives of teacher and other public school groups. The group would make recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 1. The proposal, House Concurrent Resolution 12, is scheduled to be heard in the next week's House Education Committee meeting.
Shane Riddle, legislative and political director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said a few years ago the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was turning out 200 to 250 teachers per year.
That number has been cut by about one third, Riddle said.
Riddle blamed the downturn on pay, classroom discipline problems and a 2012 state law that makes it harder to earn job protection called tenure.
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The impact of new rules that require prospective teachers to spend a year in the classroom, not just parts of one semester, is unclear.
The change stemmed from complaints by new teachers that they were ill-prepared to manage a class.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said lots of students have concerns about spending a full year working with a veteran teacher mentor.
"It is a little more logistically challenging for some of them," he said. "But they really appreciate seeing it from the first day of school to the last day of school."
The rate of teacher retirements has been mostly stable since 2004, according to figures compiled by Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana.
A total of 2,582 teachers, administrators, food workers and others retired in 2017, roughly the same as the three previous years.
The rate spiked in 2012 and 2013 – 3,295 and 3,415 respectively – due to concerns about newly-enacted laws that toughened tenure requirements and annual teacher evaluations, according to TRSL officials.
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Teacher shortages also boost the number of those forced to handle classes out of their fields, or those who are uncertified.
Cynthia Posey, legislative and political director of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said while teacher shortages are not a new issue the lack of pay raises, tougher job reviews and high-stakes tests make it worse.
"It is something that needs to be looked at," Posey said of Bagley's proposed task force.
"Teachers are just frustrated, and if they can make more money in another profession they will do that," she said.