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EDITORIAL: Teacher shortage

The Clark County School District’s growing enrollment and pursuit of smaller class sizes has led to a familiar problem — a shortage of licensed educators.

When the new school year starts in two weeks, the district expects to fill about 400 teacher vacancies with substitutes. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, the number would be slightly worse than last year, when classes started with 350 long-term substitutes on the job, but better than each of the previous five years, which began with between 406 and 692 vacancies. And hiring was an annual crisis for the country’s fifth-largest school system before the onset of the Great Recession.

The school district’s hiring challenges aren’t as bad as they could be because the system has taken many positive steps over the past few years to minimize vacancies and put well-qualified teachers in every classroom. But the system and the state must do more to attract more teaching applicants, because Clark County’s instructional needs will grow even faster in the years ahead.

A decade ago, the school district and the state were their own worst enemies in filling teacher vacancies. Nevada was ridiculously stingy in recognizing teaching experience in other states, rejecting many well-qualified applicants over their student teaching. The state’s various education boards were openly hostile to educated professionals who were interested in transitioning into teaching careers, while happy to have poorly qualified and poorly paid substitutes fill in the gaps. Bureaucracy was as much to blame for the teacher shortage as growth.

Today, the school district is actively identifying the best-qualified people from its enormous substitute pool — numbering about 4,300 — and offering them incentives. School district spokeswoman Michelle Booth said long-term substitutes who work at least 21 days in at-risk schools will see their pay increase from $120 per day to $150, and substitutes with bachelor’s degrees will be eligible for medical benefits on their 60th day in an assignment.

The goal is to encourage these substitutes to enter alternative licensure programs so they can become fully salaried instructors. The school district has added an elementary education licensure program, and it is expanding its special education program as well.

Teachers must have a minimum level of training and education (not to mention a background free of criminal behavior). But education colleges and protectionist credentials have never been the answer to teacher shortages. Schools should want instructors from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. That’s especially important in low-income schools, which often have the hardest time filling vacancies.

Incentives will certainly help. That’s why the 2015 Legislature should consider restoring an expired policy that helped alleviate previous teacher shortages: a $2,000 hiring bonus for all new educators.

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