Educator shortages and vacancies across the country have hit a “crisis level.” While the lack of educators predates the current coronavirus pandemic, its economic impact and pre-existing workforce issues caused widespread burnout amongst public educators. Along with shortages, there is growing concern about the shrinking teacher “pipeline.” Better pay and benefits may turn it around.

As issues surrounding teacher shortages grow more intense, colleges are also experiencing a steady decline of students enrolling to become teachers. In March 2022, The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) released a comprehensive report of the state of teacher preparedness, which notes some of the various challenges facing the teaching profession. The report, which used the most recent federal data from the 2018-2019 school year, found that between the “2008-2009 and the 2018-19 academic years, the number of people completing a teacher-education program declined by almost a third.” While no “pandemic-era” national data is available yet, the AACTE surveyed its members in both fall 2020 and 2021 and found that “about 20 percent of institutions reported a decline in new undergraduate enrollment of 11 percent or more.” In 2021, college students studying to become teachers were just 70,000 – less than 10% of what’s needed to fill vacancies due to retirements or growing needs of schools.

Pay and benefits have always been a source of concern for those in and seeking the teacher profession. According to the National Education Association (NEA), 78% of educators say low pay is a serious issue for them–so much so that many teachers have gone on strike, citing the issue. According to Education Week, pre-pandemic surveys showed that “concerns about pay and working conditions were deterring prospective college students from going into the teaching profession.” As we have covered before, public school teachers don’t make as much money as they would in the private sector, making it challenging to pay student loans and contribute to emergency savings or retirement funds. Pensions serve as an excellent recruitment and retention tool for this reason. 

Many states are doing what they can to combat the current staffing issues. Some even rely on veterans and college students to teach children. However, these solutions are only temporary.  The future of education is unprecedented, and there needs to be a focus on attracting more young people to the teaching profession. Addressing the pay and benefits issues causing current educators to leave the workforce is a great place to start. 

The shrinking teacher pipeline can not be an issue we continue to overlook. Denying future educators benefits such as defined-benefit pension plans only exacerbates current recruitment and retention issues, as well as the decline of the teacher pipeline. Instead, legislators should look for ways to address the long-standing concern surrounding teachers’ pay and benefits. The future of education depends on it.