The Legislature must take bold steps next year to prevent a drastic teacher shortage that would derail efforts to fulfill the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling.

Share story

WASHINGTON lawmakers met an important milestone this year in the court-ordered mandate to fully fund education when they allocated $1.3 billion in additional money. That is going to pay for all-day kindergarten and class-size reductions in kindergarten through third grade, as well as some other costs.

However, having the money for all those new teachers is not the same as having them in place. Some schools already are having a hard time filling positions and the oncoming surge in demand could lead to a serious teacher shortage.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) estimates that Washington, which employs close to 60,000 classroom teachers, needs about 10,000 more to fulfill mandates to reduce class sizes and offer all-day kindergarten.

The Legislature enacted the goals of reducing K-3 class size and providing all-day kindergarten several years ago and the state Supreme Court, in its 2012 McCleary ruling, held the state to that commitment.

Looming on the horizon is Initiative 1351, which voters approved in 2014 to reduce all class sizes. The Legislature suspended that initiative for two years for budget reasons. If implemented, that would also increase teacher demand. Add in the thousands of teachers who leave the profession each year to change careers or retire.

The OSPI is suggesting several strategies to attract more teachers, such as increasing first-year salaries and offering signing bonuses of $10,000 for out-of-state teachers or $5,000 for those in rural or small districts.

Other smart ideas include making it easier for teachers from other states to transfer their licenses here, setting up an online system that would allow teachers to apply for jobs statewide, and removing restrictions that bar retired teachers from working as substitutes.

The state must also address ongoing challenges of filling positions at high-poverty or rural schools and in areas such as special education, math and science.

Some of those ideas take legislation and money. As it strives to improve outcomes for all Washington students, the Legislature should remember the complexities of addressing every classroom has high-quality teachers.