DENVER – The hearing for Barbara McLachlan’s first bill in the Colorado General Assembly ended on a 7-5 party-line vote in its favor, but proceedings were far tenser than expected as ideas to solve the growing teacher shortage clashed.
“It’s one of those strange paradoxes I haven’t had in a longtime: I agree with everything you’re saying, and I disagree with what we’re doing,” Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida, said of House Bill 1003, which would place a Dec. 1 deadline on a study of what is driving down enrollment in teacher programs that the state departments of Education and Higher Education are conducting.
Disagreement stems from follow through on the study and what would come of it, Wilson said. “I wrote down six words that I think would sum up the study: Not enough, need more, now what?”
McLachlan said the study will go beyond just asking why students are not choosing education and actually gather input from rural schools, which are the most affected by the shortfall, and establish a strategic plan to correct the shortage.
Wilson argued the teacher shortage was not new, Rather than study the issue, he said, steps needed to be taken to help districts who can’t find teachers.
“It’s essentially too little, too late,” Wilson said. “We should be talking about this right now. If this is important right now, put everyone around the table. How long will it take us to talk about a solution? It won’t take us until December.”
One option was a bill sponsored by Wilson, which would have allowed rural districts declare a critical shortage and hire nonlicensed individuals as teachers. But the measure was killed at Wilson’s request.
“Maybe we should get all of those graduates that are coming out of our colleges and universities unemployed and pointing them toward education and an alternative-licensure program,” Wilson said.
However, representatives from the Higher Education Department questioned if this was a viable option.
“I agree with you that we need to increase the pool of applicants who want to be teachers, but we need to make sure they are the right pool,” said Robert Mitchell, director of Educator Preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Caught in the clashing opinions on how to address the shortage was McLachlan’s bill to study the shortage and create a plan to fix the issue.
“If we’re going to move forward and figure what’s wrong with education in Colorado we need some facts to base it on, we can’t just go on emotion,” McLachlan said.
This approach was supported by representatives of the Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Education Association and Stand for Children, an education advocacy group.
While the viability of the study called for by HB 1003 was debated, both stakeholders and the members of House Education Committee agreed the teacher shortage has reached a crisis level and actions must be taken to resolve it.
“Education today, we try to fix it with little patchworks,” McLachlan said. “If you fix the mill levy in one town than education will be better, and yet the poor towns don’t get to raise their mill levies.”
The bill now heads to the House floor.