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Schools nationwide brace for teacher shortages amid coronavirus

Schools nationwide brace for teacher shortages amid coronavirus
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Schools nationwide are bracing for teacher shortages as many have taken retirement or have otherwise been hesitant to return due to the risk of contracting coronavirus, The Hechinger Report reported Thursday.

As the unprecedented school year begins, school districts face a lack of teachers, as older teachers and those with underlying conditions have been slow to return to in-person classrooms amid COVID-19, according to the nonprofit news organization. Hundreds of educators, including some in Georgia and Mississippi, have been sent to quarantine after coronavirus outbreaks in their schools.

While a majority of the top 25 largest school districts in the country are conducting classes online, some states, like Iowa, have mandated schools have a portion of in-person learning. 

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Clark County in Nevada, the country’s fifth-largest school district, began the school year last week online with 400 empty teacher positions, a drop from 750 in July, a district spokesperson told The Hechinger Report.

A third of teachers polled told Education Week in July they were somewhat or very likely to depart from their job this year, while in a typical year, that number is about 8 percent.  

Nicola Soares, the president of Kelly Education, a substitute recruiting service, told The Hechinger Report that the service has seen a surge in requests this summer. Last year, 20 percent of the substitute teacher assignments in 40 states were filling full-time vacancies.

“We’re being asked to double if not triple the size of our talent pool just so the openings can be covered,” Soares said. 

A total of 31 states have alleviated the requirements for incoming teachers to make it easier for them to get certifications and for districts to recruit. It is unknown how many students will be taught by teachers who are not fully licensed, the Report noted.

But at the same time, the economic downturn caused by the virus is expected to bring widespread layoffs for teachers. 

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Less than a third of the 302 districts that the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University tracks have laid off employees as of mid-August, with most layoffs involving non-teachers. 

“Without a [federal] rescue package, the layoffs are coming, even if they’re not happening right away in September,” Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington, told The Hechinger Report. “Across the country, school districts are wrestling with this now.”

During the Great Recession, more than 120,000 public school teachers had their jobs cut, although 275,000 could have been laid off without federal assistance, school finance expert Michael Griffith of the Learning Incident told The Hechinger Report. 

Congress has continued to debate how much money should be dedicated to K-12 schools during the pandemic, but recent talks have stalled amid disagreements.

Republicans have proposed $70 billion in assistance with much of it contingent on schools reopening in-person. Democrats originally offered $58 billion in the HEROES Act passed in May but now have released a proposal with $175 billion.