As Virginia continues to struggle with teacher shortages, lawmakers have proposed a range of bills that aim to address low job satisfaction among public school teachers.
The state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recently found that 10,900 teachers left the workforce ahead of the current school year, while only 7,208 teachers with first-time licenses were hired.
“This is a problem that has been decades in the making, but the pressure of the past few years has simply pushed this out into the open,” said James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, during a press conference last week. “To be blunt, low pay in Virginia is contributing to teacher and other staff shortages. The impact of staffing shortages on the day-to-day operation of a school is almost impossible to understate.”
More than 15% of Virginia teachers told JLARC they are “definitely leaving” or “likely to leave” their job in public education by the end of the 2022–23 school year, compared to only 9% in a 2019 survey by the Virginia Department of Education.
A report from the commission also found the need to provide both remote and in-person learning and increased workloads were key challenges for teachers.
“Nearly three-fourths of teachers reported that their morale is lower since the pandemic. About two-thirds reported they are less satisfied with the job,” JLARC wrote. “Of the teachers who indicated they are likely to leave by the end of the 2022–23 school year, a majority cited the effects of the pandemic—including lower morale, reduced job satisfaction, and higher workload—as a contributing factor.
Pay and relief
Lawmakers are considering a range of compensation and relief proposals aimed at recruiting and retaining public school teachers.
Last session, the General Assembly funded 10% raises for teachers to be spread over two years.
However, Fedderman said those increases will not be enough to bring teachers up to the national pay average or keep up with inflation. He added that under the existing funding formula, rural counties will be unable to meet the required matches to their local schools, “further stretching an already strained system.”
Democratic Dels. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach are aiming to address those concerns through legislation requiring public school teachers to be compensated at a competitive rate to “attract and keep highly qualified teachers” or at a rate or above the national average.
“At the very least, we should continue building on some of the work we’ve done and pay our teachers at least the national average,” said Rasoul.
Other proposals are intended to address teacher shortages through the funding of additional training and professional support.
Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, has proposed a $633,000 budget amendment that would pay for the expansion of a teacher mentorship program to all school divisions across Virginia and the creation of a program to grow the number of teachers through college partnerships.
According to materials provided by Dan Bianco, chief of staff for Reid, the “Virginia Teacher Residency Training Corps” would form teacher training programs at Virginia Commonwealth, Radford, Longwood and Norfolk State universities. The intention is to address shortages by creating an “ROTC-like program that creates a supportive, cohort environment to minimize student dropout.”
Providing classroom support, encouraging new candidates
Lawmakers are also seeking to alleviate the workload of public school teachers by reaching new candidates to fill vacancies and providing instructional assistance for teachers, particularly after dismal results on the Standards of Learning tests were announced in the fall.
State data show that in 2021-22, only 66% of students passed the mathematics test compared to 82% before the pandemic. On reading tests, 73% of students passed, compared to 78% before the pandemic.
Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, filed a bill that would permit schools to use alternative assessments to determine a student’s need for reading and math intervention.
Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, proposed legislation to create policy recommendations to help school divisions “more effectively” recruit and retain licensed teachers.
And a bill from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, would direct the Department of Education to develop and maintain an “easily accessible and streamlined website” to provide clarification on teacher licensure and endorsement requirements as well as a teacher licensure application portal.
Mental health support
Another serious problem JLARC found was leading to low job satisfaction is worsening classroom behavior and mental health issues.
Researchers said current numbers of health staff in schools, which decreased during the pandemic, are likely inadequate to address students’ mental health issues fully.
Nationally, professionals recommend one psychologist per 500 students. But in Virginia, on average, there is one school psychologist for every 1,322 students.
Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, is proposing legislation to create a uniform system of discipline that school districts would use in dealing with disruptive behavior or removing a student from a class.
Democratic lawmakers including Rasoul and Sen. Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake have also proposed bills to employ school psychologists under provisional licenses and require school boards to adopt a plan for a school counseling program that “meets the mental and emotional health needs of all students and guiding students in academic progress, postsecondary planning, and social-emotional learning.”