Kentucky lawmakers focus on state's teacher shortage; hear testimony

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) – The Interim Joint Committee on Education listened to testimony Wednesday as several superintendents spoke about their struggles with a declining population of educators in the state.

Lawmakers heard testimony from superintendents from several school districts on Wednesday. (Photo: WKYT/ Hillary Thornton)

During testimony, some explained how they are having to go out into their communities to places like Walmart, local banks, and other public places looking for people interested in taking up a career in teaching.

A passionate debate unfolded at the hearing over whether or not there is a so-called ‘war’ on public education. Some lawmakers saying there absolutely is while others deny that claim.

"There was a comment made about a war on public schools ... there is," said Rep. Jeff Donohue (D-Fairdale). His colleague Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) who is an educator echoing that stance explaining that there are times she does not feel valued. Meanwhile, many Rpublican members defending their work and explaining their support for public educators.

This all coming after a discussion about ways to improve hiring, retention, and development of Kentucky’s teachers. The state is facing a shortage of educators – during the summer, around 2,000 vacancies were posted.

“I am sad to report to you that too many of those vacancies are still open and school has started. And we know what happens there – students suffer,” said Dr. Jim Flynn, with the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

Dr. Robbie Fletcher, the superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, reported that districts in his region of the eastern part of the state currently have 63 unfilled or emergency-certified filled positions.

“Our students are coming to school, and we are doing the best with what we have,” says Fletcher.

Dr. Flynn explained that the amount of students going into education is dropping drastically, reporting that back in 2011 there were about 13,000 enrolled in education programs.

“In 2017, less than 5,000,” explained Flynn.

While some disagree on the so-called rhetoric surrounding education, everyone in the room agreed they should all be doing what they can to encourage young people to go into education.

“We’ve all together got to. Because words matter, we’ve all got to be positive about those professions,” said Rep. Steve Riley (R – Glasgow.)

“We are constantly telling our kids there is a war on education – why would they want to go into that battle,” asked Sen. Stephen Meredith (R-Leitchfield.)

The superintendents who testified listed some things that they say create an impact when trying to hire teachers, including competitive salary, benefits, retirement, the resources to do their job well, and opportunities to grow professionally.

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