'So many obstacles stand in their way': White House addresses teacher shortage

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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As schools across the U.S. start the new school year with hundreds of teacher vacancies, the White House announced new efforts to help fill vacancies.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As thousands of schools in the U.S. start the 2022-2023 school year with hundreds of teacher vacancies, the White House announced new efforts on Wednesday to strengthen the teaching profession and help schools fill vacancies.

The five-page release includes how the White House will partner with job search firms to make applying and recruiting for school jobs easier, invest in teachers and expand the teacher pipeline.

First Lady Jill Biden had her first public event at the Roosevelt Room since recovering from COVID-19. She was joined by officials such as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and other stakeholders.

"There are so many other future educators out there who want to teach, but decide against it, or leave, because so many obstacles stand in their way," Biden said. "If we want to draw more bright, talented people into this field, if we want educators to be able to do what they do best, we have to give them the pay and support they deserve."

The long-standing staffing challenges facing U.S. schools come as North Carolina's struggling to fill thousands of vacancies.

"We have over 11,000 vacancies across the state," NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said. "Over 6,000 to 7,000 certified vacancies, also vacancies with our education and support professionals; so bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants, and that is going to impact our student's educational experience not only academically in the classroom, but their entire day."

'It kind of makes you wonder': NC teachers boldly recruited by school systems in other states

In August, a billboard of Richmond Public Schools in Virginia was placed on I-440 near New Bern Avenue where it boldly recruits teachers in the Triangle area.

"We are losing our educators to our neighbors, both in the North and the South, so Virginia and South Carolina," Walker Kelly said.

Former teacher Sunnie Vanderheyden decided to help ease the burden by going back to school as a substitute teacher in Wake County.

"I wanted to help back the shortage," Vanderheyden said, despite it taking at least a month to finish the hiring process. "I know it's probably taken others a lot longer."

She says the White House's effort, such as partnering with ZipRecruiter to launch a new online job portal specifically dedicated to K-12 school jobs, is a good idea.

However, there is a drawback to being long-term.

"There's a lot of work that goes in with that, and it's still only a sub pay," Vanderheyden added.

On average, teachers make about 33% less than other college-educated professionals, according to the White House.

"Adjusted for inflation, the average weekly wages of public school teachers has only increased $29 between 1996 and 2021," the White House said.

According to Walker Kelly, educator pay is still not as competitive in North Carolina.

"Our educators aren't taking on more responsibilities for stagnant pay, and so that leads to educator stress and burnout," Walker Kelly said, adding there's a remedy.

"It comes right here in Raleigh with our North Carolina General Assembly who has more than $6 billion in rainy-day fund which they can use to increase educator pay across the board," Walker Kelly said.

She is hoping state legislators will work together to make sure federal relief is applied effectively and consistently.

"We know that we need to invest and fix the pipeline of educators, and that starts with educator recruitment. We have had high quality programs such as the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program that were fully expanded to all of our North Carolina college campuses. And we know that is a critical component to bringing educators to North Carolina classrooms," Vanderheyden said.