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The Wall Street Journal: ‘It’s like dog-eat-dog’: Public school districts are scrambling to cope with intensifying teacher shortage

In Maine, state employees are pitching summer-camp counselors on the benefits of being a teacher. In Texas, school districts are buying billboards in other states to lure educators across the border. In Florida, military veterans with no prior teaching experience will soon be allowed to lead classrooms. In New Jersey, dozens of districts will pipe virtual teachers into classrooms.

Nationwide, school districts are dealing with what many administrators are calling the toughest teacher recruiting season they have ever experienced. Schools are racing to fill classroom openings with qualified educators as the school year begins, with many holding out hope that they won’t have to resort to long-term substitutes, cutting classes or increasing class sizes.

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“We’re going through one of the worst shortages we’ve ever seen,” said Charity Comella, the human-resources director at a school district outside Princeton, N.J. “It’s like dog-eat-dog, all of the school districts are getting very competitive with each other.”

State education departments and legislatures are working to bolster the teacher pipeline, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create teacher residency programs, boost salaries and cover the costs of a credential for those working in the highest-need schools. Many states are also loosening requirements to become a teacher, calling them needlessly onerous.

Tens of thousands of teacher vacancies exist across the country, according to state education departments. Indiana schools are seeking more than 1,700 classroom positions. Delaware has 500 openings. An Iowa job board lists more than 1,400 teacher jobs, with another nearly 700 posted in Ohio.

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Some states have increased salaries; New Mexico teachers now start at between $50,000 and $70,000, an increase of as much as 25%. Teachers earn an average of $65,300 nationally, with average starting salaries of $41,770, according to the National Education Association.

Many administrators say the pandemic strained what has for years been a tight teacher labor market. The number of students completing teacher preparation programs fell 30% between 2010-11 and 2019-20, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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