How to tackle teacher shortage? Some lawmakers say retirees could ease the problem – The Advocate

Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, left, shown here last year with former House Speaker Jim Tucker, has proposed a bill that would allow retired teachers to return to the classroom and earn 50% of their pension, up from 25% now. 
hats with former House Speaker Jim Tucker, right, in the House Chamber. House Education Committee members, of which Edmonds is one, was taking care of other business in the House Chamber after the committee did not meet Wednesday May 26, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, left, shown here last year with former House Speaker Jim Tucker, has proposed a bill that would allow retired teachers to return to the classroom and earn 50% of their pension, up from 25% now. 
hats with former House Speaker Jim Tucker, right, in the House Chamber. House Education Committee members, of which Edmonds is one, was taking care of other business in the House Chamber after the committee did not meet Wednesday May 26, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.
Louisiana’s teacher shortage is growing more urgent, and some state lawmakers want to try to lure retired teachers back to the classroom by offering more money.
The push comes on the heels of state report that showed around 50,000 students per day go without their regular teacher amid the scramble to fill gaps.
« And I think that is probably a small number, » state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said last week, meaning it is likely higher than 50,000.
Brumley made his comments after a discussion on the subject by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week.
The ranks of aspiring teachers are down 30%.
Louisiana’s teacher workforce is suffering from a variety of ills, including a 30% drop in the ranks of aspiring teachers, a glut of educators…
About 1 in 4 teachers is either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise.
« Our schools are in crisis, » Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told BESE last week. « There is no other way to put it. »
State Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, is the sponsor of one of three bills aimed at getting retired teachers back in schools.
Under current rules, teachers can only earn 25% of their annual retirement pay if they return to a public school system job.
Edmonds wants to boost that to 50% of their their final average compensation, which is based on a formula.
The measure would only apply those who retired by Dec. 31, 2021, which he said is aimed at preventing a surge of teachers who want to take advantage of any new policy.
The more lenient rule would also be capped at three years, which he said will allow time to see if the change works and if the shortage eases.

Louisiana’s teacher shortage is getting worse with retirements on the rise, the number of new teachers plunging and superintendents finding it increasingly difficult to fill classroom jobs.
Edmonds said he thinks allowing former teachers to earn 50% of what they are getting is the only approach that has a chance of clearing the Legislature. « I think there is enough people that see the same thing that they know this is at least a half a step in the right direction, » he said.
The state has about 74,000 retired teachers who would be eligible to return to work, according to the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.
They collect an average of $27,378 per year, which raises questions on how many educators would return to the classroom for half that amount.
Those who did so would likely work only a partial school year even with the more liberal pay rules.
Teachers are paid an average of $51,666 in Louisiana.
Michael Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he believes the Edmonds’ bill has the best chance of winning approval because it includes a three-year cap.
While African-Americans make up about half of the students in Louisiana’s public schools, only 5% of teachers are black men.
Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings, has filed a similar bill to the Edmonds’ measure – House Bill 26.
The Edmonds’ proposal is House Bill 22.
What prompted the BESE discussion was a first-of-its-kind survey done in December by the state Department of Education that got responses from 74% of school sites.
The review showed that low-performing schools have more vacancies than others and charter schools more than traditional ones.
Respondents said the two hardest jobs to fill are school bus drivers – 65% – and classroom teachers – 53%.
During the discussion, BESE President Jim Garvey, of Metairie, wondered aloud whether offering teachers pay hikes to work in troubled public schools would help the problem.
But Doris Voitier, another BESE member and superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, said any such pay bump would have to be significant to generate interest.
Voitier said her school system has little difficulty filling elementary school jobs but high schools and special education are another story.
More than two thirds of those who took part in the poll said principals and other administrative jobs are « easy » to fill.
Holly Boffy, a BESE member who lives in Lafayette, said teachers are the single biggest factor in student success.
« It is one of the most important issues we are facing, » Boffy said of the shortage.
Another measure, House Bill 30, would remove the earnings cap entirely for former teachers.
Delays in the processing of criminal background checks for teachers are aggravating Louisiana’s educator shortage, state officials say.
Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, said allowing teachers to earn 50% of their benefit would not be enough to get them back in the classroom.
Frieman noted that, under the current rules, a retired teacher could be fully paid at a private school and keep their full state pension.
« If they can do that why can’t they do that in the public school system? » he asked.
Louisiana had just such a law enacted in 2001, which was changed significantly in 2010 and again in 2020, said Katherine Whitney, director of the TRSL.
The current cap on what retired teachers can earn does not apply to the private sector.
Under Frieman’s bill, those who take advantage of the new policy could not get additional retirement benefits or accrue more service.
The 17-member TRSL Board of Trustees last Thursday voted to oppose Frieman’s bill and take a neutral stance on Edmonds’ measure. It did not take a position on Romero’s legislation.
Brumley said the long-term solution for ending the teacher shortage is convincing more people to enter the profession.
« I think retirees being able to return to work is important but it is not the solution, » he said.
Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.
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