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VICTOR JOECKS: How to fix CCSD’s teacher shortage

If higher pay could solve the Clark County School District’s teacher shortage crisis, it would have.

A dearth of teachers continues to be a major crisis for the district. Teachers are leaving the district at a much higher rate than in previous years. As of last week, it has more than 1,350 openings for licensed positions. It’s likely that the district will start next school year — again — with a classroom vacancy rate of 8 percent or more.

Just like last year, those openings aren’t evenly spread out. There are 971 vacancies listed for schools in Las Vegas. In Henderson, there are just 61 openings. Liberty High School currently has no job openings. Foothill High School has just one. Both are in Henderson. In contrast, Cheyenne High School has 24 jobs available. Western High School has 22. Both are in urban areas.

The reflexive solution is to pay teachers more. With the bloated education budget signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo, there’s the money to do it. The idea has an intuitive appeal to. In a free market, that’s how you attract more people to a profession.

But there’s a major problem with that theory. The district tried it last year, and it didn’t work. The district boosted starting teacher pay to more than $50,000. That was a 16.5 percent increase worth more than $7,000. But the district started the year with more than 1,350 classroom vacancies. In each of the five previous years, that number was under 800.

If that’s not enough, the district boosted starting teacher pay by 15 percent in 2016. That fall, it still had hundreds of vacancies. Unlike in a free market, teacher-licensing requirements restrict the pool of potential applicants.

Instead of repeating this failed plan, the district needs to do a better job retaining its current employees. Start with making the working environment safer. Right now, showing up to school puts many teachers in physical danger. Teachers shared horror story after horror story testifying in favor of school safety bills this year. Fortunately, Lombardo’s fairly good school safety bill passed the Legislature.

Now, Superintendent Jesus Jara needs to change course. Instead of obsessing over racial disparities in discipline, he needs to empower principals to punish students based on their actions. Jara needs to embrace MLK and ditch DEI.

Most teachers find great satisfaction in helping their students learn. Motivating students requires both the carrot of praise and the stick of bad grades. Jara, however, has robbed teachers of the latter. He dumbed down district grading policies. Students now get a minimum of 50 percent of every assignment and test — even if they cheat, turn it in late or never do it.

This has made it much harder to get students to do their schoolwork. Unsurprisingly, teachers are leaving the district because of it.

Another improvement would be to allow schools to ban cellphones during the school day. Teachers shouldn’t have to try to be more entertaining than TikTok and text messages. Fewer distractions in the classroom would be a good thing.

Nevada’s retirement system is a problem, too. Some teachers can draw full retirement in their 50s, and the system incentivizes them to retire. It sure would be nice to have them stay in the classroom. The best solution is to move public employees to a hybrid retirement system that doesn’t create this problem.

Don’t expect any of this to happen. Without a robust system of school choice, the public school establishment has no financial incentive to improve.

You can’t fix Nevada’s broken education system by pouring more money into it. But you sure can make it more expensive.

Victor Joecks column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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