Arizona combats teacher shortage


The state of Arizona is still working to fight a disheartening shortage in public educators, one of the many issues identified in the “Red for Ed” movement. 

Many thoughts are unfolding in search of the means to attract new and committed teachers to the K-12 system. 

“I’m looking for the best and brightest to commit to teach in Arizona public schools,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in his 2017 State of the State Address. “If you make that commitment, we’ll make this commitment; your education will be paid for, a job will be waiting and you will be free of debt.”  

The Arizona Board of Regents developed a plan for the Arizona Teacher’s Academy, which, according to the Arizona Office of Education, is “a unique and innovative strategy to improve public education.”

Gov. Doug Ducey has made the case for expanding the Arizona Teachers’ Academy.

In April 2018, over 75,000 educators gathered at the capitol in solidarity. Their goal, according to AZ Educators United, was “to tell our lawmakers what we have needed for so long: fully funded schools, raises for all school employees, and a guarantee of raises for the future.” 

The program aims to incentivise students who are (1) attending (or have graduated from) public institutions of higher education and (2) are willing to commit to employment as educators in the AZ K-12 public school system. These incentives include scholarships and the waiving of tuition and/or institutional fees. 

In the state of Arizona, there are two common pathways aspiring teachers take. The first is the traditional route by which students earn a four-year degree in education with an emphasis in their preferred area of study. 

The second route allows “subject matter experts” to become certified teachers through a post-back program, diverting the potential of needing to earn an additional undergraduate degree in education. 

According to the ATA’s 2018 annual report, which provided information on the first year of the program’s implementation, 221 total students enrolled across the state. There were 146 Arizona State University students, 60 Northern Arizona University students and 15 from the University of Arizona. 

The budget for the first year of the program was $1 million, divided by 221 is about $4,500 per student. Of the 221 students, 102 students completed their program of study within a year, and 61 had accepted employment within the state’s K-12 school system. 

Brian Stewart is the dean of education and biomedical sciences and education and the dean of student success at Pima Community College. He also is involved with the ATA and maintains an immense understanding of the sociological, economic and pedagogic attributes that bridge the gap between problem and solution. 

“This last year, if you’ve heard of the Red for Ed movement, it’s brought this national attention to — sort of a variety of issues,” Stewart said. “But one of them is the pay element, and part of that pay element is that it’s expensive to become a teacher. It’s hard to spend the time and the four years in a university to go through that kind of program. 

 “So part of the idea is to take the burden of that debt away so it’s easier,” he continued. “It’s still hard because the salaries are not quite where we’d like them to be. But at least it’s more reasonable; it’s more possible for them to do that.”