RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Governor Glenn Youngkin is taking steps to address the teacher shortage and learning loss in Virginia.
During a visit to Colonial Forge High School in Stafford County on Thursday, Governor Youngkin signed an executive directive outlining a nine-point plan to recruit and retain quality teachers.
“I’m frustrated that we have a shortage right now. It has been a persistent shortage over many years,” Youngkin told reporters.
The plan directs State Superintendent Jillian Balow to do everything in her power to speed up the licensing process for retirees and out-of-state teachers. Long term, Youngkin is calling for legislation to remove hiring barriers while “ensuring high standards” for those groups, as well as military veterans and people looking to switch careers.
Additionally, Youngkin wants to build the talent pipeline by creating a no-cost apprenticeship program to train new teachers.
A separate program will train high school students as child care specialists. The plan also directs Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera to form model policies, including potential legislation, to support child care inside schools that both teachers and local families could use.
Another part of the plan directs Balow to target teacher recruitment and retention efforts to the highest need communities and subject areas, including through bonuses, benefits and incentives.
Youngkin’s directive says his administration will track positions with critical shortages using a survey. It says they will also start a new survey to ask current and exiting teachers what’s really behind the problem.
“There is no silver bullet in anything and we have to recognize that, when we bring multiple initiatives to bear on a single problem, we give ourselves a much better chance at solving it,” Youngkin said.
One thing the directive does not specifically address is a plan to continue to increase teacher pay across the board. Lawmakers approved a 10 percent raise over two years for educators earlier this summer, which requires a local match. Youngkin said school staff will also get a bonus in December.
But the Virginia Education Association has said that still doesn’t put the state above the national average.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Governor Youngkin, could not say if Youngkin planned to include additional funding for teacher raises in his December budget proposal.
Katina Harris, a 7th grade teacher for Richmond Public Schools, said in an interview on Thursday that pay is a huge part of the problem. She said she is among many educators who is currently working a part-time job to make ends meet.
“Most teachers work second jobs, third jobs,” Harris said. “I would hope that people understand that individuals still cannot make it on the salary that we have.”
Another problem is a lack of support. Former Henrico teacher John Reaves said that’s what led him to leave his job at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
“You cannot bring great teachers in unless you cultivate an environment where great teachers feel valued and I think that’s a major issue. I don’t think teachers feel valued,” Reaves said.
Reaves said class sizes are too large, staff turnover is too high and the pandemic has increased the needs of students tremendously.
“There is just a huge gap in learning and a huge gap in emotional growth and I felt personally responsible for it until I realized I am just one person,” Reaves said.
State law lays out student-to-teacher ratios in the classroom. Youngkin’s plan makes no mention of that either.
Youngkin did unveil a new initiative to address learning loss on Thursday. Fifteen school divisions are expected to take part in the “Bridging the Gap” pilot program.
Youngkin said it will provide individualized student data reports to track performance. After that, parents, students, and teachers will team up and create personalized action plans to help those who have fallen behind. The initiative will also provide training to teachers on how to best communicate with families.
“We must empower students, parents and teachers with timely, actionable and tailored data, as well as the tools and training to use that data to address learning gaps together,” said Secretary Guidera. “This transformational effort uses data as a flashlight to change conversations, decisions, actions and, most importantly, results.”