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WKYT Investigates: Teacher shortages

When teachers enter the classroom this new year, they’ll be facing a new retirement system. Some education leaders worry the new system, combined with the last two years of Covid complications, may make it harder to recruit and retain.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 3:06 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - When teachers enter the classroom this new year, they’ll be facing a new retirement system.

Some education leaders worry the new system, combined with the last two years of Covid complications, may make it harder to recruit and retain.

Doctors, nurses, and medical staff might be on the frontlines fighting this pandemic, but teachers aren’t far behind. They’ve spent the last two years teaching virtually and in-person, passing out meals, helping with transportation, and providing support to thousands of students and their families.

Words of encouragement from parents, Donnie Piercey says, sometimes feel like all they have.

“A little thing like a note to that teacher letting them know that you’re really thankful for not only everything that they’re doing for their child, but everything that they’re doing for the hundreds of students they might have come through their classroom each day can really make the difference in the world for that professional,” notes Piercey.

Piercey, as the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, says words of gratitude alone will not keep teachers in the industry. He’s a big supporter of paying teachers better wages. The Kentucky Education Association said the average salary this past year for a public school teacher was around $54,000. Their findings show 35 states pay more than that. The KEA also says teachers are paid as much as 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience.

“Professional compensation is going to be critical as we think about the long-term play to maintain high-quality teachers in our public schools, says Prichard Committee’s President & CEO Brigitte Blom.

The new retirement system, taking effect January 1st, is part pension and part savings account. A spokesperson for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System says the hybrid plan remains a social security replacement plan. Retirement can begin after 30 years of service - the old plan kicked in after 27 years of service. Even state retirement system leaders say it’s too soon to tell if it’ll have an effect on the recruitment and retention of teachers.

“I’ve been a pretty outspoken advocate for increasing teacher pay. I feel like that’s something which can entice new people to the profession, but also just giving teachers the freedom to do what’s best for their students. I feel like is also something that a lot of administrators need to continue to focus on,” says Piercey. Pay and patience are two factors he believes will help shore up shortages.

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