Legislative study committee begins studying teacher recruitment and retention

A study committee of five lawmakers will spend the next year examining the key factors in the state’s teacher workforce shortage. The Committee to Study New Hampshire Teacher Shortages and Recruitment Incentives was created last session by Senate Bill (SB) 236 to examine the current state of the educator workforce, as well as identify strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers of color and educators to work in rural and underserved school districts.

At  its first meeting on Wednesday, August 30, the Committee began examining some of the key factors in workforce shortages. 

The group will be chaired by Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene) until December, when his term officially ends. Other members include Senator Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard), and Representatives Oliver Ford (R-Chester), Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), and Mel Myler (D-Contoocook). Steve Appleby, the Director of the NH Department of Education’s Division of Educator Support and Higher Education, is also on the Committee.  

The Committee has four goals that are outlined in the text of the bill:

  1. Study New Hampshire teacher shortages since 2018 and expected retirements through 2026.
  2. Identify strategies for attracting more qualified candidates into the profession to fill shortage areas with particular attention to attracting underrepresented minorities and filling positions in rural districts and districts with lower performance outcomes.
  3. Evaluate recruitment incentives used in other states, such as loan forgiveness, housing assistance, tuition reimbursements, and scholarships to help fill shortages, and consider how such incentives might be offered and funded in New Hampshire, such as upon initial licensure and employment in the state.
  4. Identify strategies for retaining currently licensed and practicing teachers.

Teacher Shortages Across the State

New Hampshire has grappled with a shortage of certified educators for years in upper grades and in certain subjects, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing has become an even greater challenge in schools. 

“An increase in educators leaving the profession for retirement or for jobs outside education, combined with a decade-long decline in people entering the teaching profession, has left school districts trying to fill a wider range of vacancies, often from narrower pools of applicants,” the Valley News reported in August. 

“Teacher shortages and paraeducator shortages are more pronounced than they were in the past,” Brendan Minnihan, former superintendent of the Newport School District, told the Keene Sentinel earlier this year. “Even the number of applicants for positions has decreased substantially from the time I started as a superintendent about 15 years ago.”

Building, Strengthening, and Diversifying the Profession

Reaching Higher NH believes that all students deserve access to a high-quality, engaging education with well-prepared and supported teachers. This goal requires equitable, adequate investments in our schools, our communities, and our institutions to ensure that there is a thriving teacher and school staff pipeline. 

To that end, there are a number of evidence-based strategies to effectively recruit, retain, and develop teachers and school staff, including:

  • Ensuring that teachers and school staff are compensated equitably and competitively.
  • Investing in preparatory programs, building strong pathways, and incentivizing future teachers to enter the field. 
  • Ensuring that teachers and school staff are prepared and supported, through mentorships and residencies.
  • Creating a school climate that respects teachers by providing them with the materials they need, giving them a manageable workload, and offering opportunities for advancement and shared leadership. 

Other states have implemented these strategies through state and local policy making, and some work is already being done throughout New Hampshire at the district level.

In the meeting, the Committee members discussed the goals listed in the bill and highlighted other topics for discussion, including teacher salaries, the current teaching environment, the state Critical Shortage List, and teacher preparation programs.

Rep. Myler highlighted a need to connect with teachers, both present and past, to ask them what the teaching environment is like and why they might have left the profession. “What is happening out there to make a teacher say ‘I’ve had enough?’ ” Myler said. “They’re under a lot of stress. There are still residual impacts of COVID in those schools, and I think that if we don’t look at some of the environmental stuff, we’re missing a major piece here.”

In the coming months, The Committee will also explore retirements, the role of teacher compensation, and teacher preparation programs in New Hampshire colleges and universities.

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