The Vermont Principals Association
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Press Release: Vermont Education Workforce Shortage

Last Tuesday, October 25th, Governor Scott held a joint press conference with the Department of Labor and the McClure Foundation to announce Vermont’s Highest-Demand Promising Jobs, the 2023-2024 edition. This annual report shares a list of the 50 most promising jobs in Vermont over the next 10 years. In this edition, the #1 highest-demand promising job in Vermont for the next 10 years–by quite a large margin, is teacher.

The news that teaching is in high demand does not come as a surprise to the education field, yet it does underscore the very real short-term and long-term human resources needed in our public schools. Recruiting and retaining school employees has always been a challenge, particularly in the most rural areas of Vermont. Now, this issue has gone from challenge to crisis. Investing in the Vermont educator workforce is a triple investment in that it 1) provides its own high quality jobs for communities, 2) is necessary for teaching all the other roles that are in key demand (nurses, construction, etc.), 3) ensures strong schools so that Vermont remains a desirable destination for young families. As the report states:

Teaching […] is the promising job associated with the greatest number of openings. It’s a profession that makes other professions possible, not just because teachers prepare young people for work as adults but because when schools are open, our economy is open.

A Few Examples of the Impact of Shortages

● Substitutes, Bus Drivers, & Paraeducators: Public school systems around the state are reporting significant shortages in all the roles that help make schools go. In addition to the shortages in special educators and counselors, shortages in substitutes, bus-drivers, and paraeducators have led to some schools having to cancel school during high rates of staff sickness. There have also been many morning bus pick-ups canceled at the last minute and extracurriculars that need to be rescheduled or canceled. The entire system is being stretched thinner and thinner in its effort to serve students and families well.

● Higher Needs with Fewer People: The impact of COVID-19, inflation, childhood poverty, lack of available housing and addiction are complex problems that come to fruition in the daily lives of students. Student anxiety, depression, truancy, and destructive student behavior are increasing as schools work hard to provide students with proactive and responsive services. Schools are trying to help students with significant mental health challenges through shortages of key roles and overwhelmed community partners. Schools’ mental health, emergency health, and family services partners are experiencing the same human resources shortages, leading to schools simply triaging situations as best they can–despite being short-handed themselves.

● Turnover of Leadership: Vermont schools have had a very high turnover rate in school leaders. The Vermont Principals’ Association saw an increase from the more typical 20% turnover rate to nearly 33% this year. Burnout from the challenges that shortages cause are a significant part of that turnover.

What Would Help?

● Apply now: If you have ever considered being a coach, official, bus-driver, paraeducator, teacher, or subbing in schools–we need you, please apply and pursue these pathways!

● Name the issue publicly: During the recent press conference, Governor Scott and the Department of Labor seemingly went out of their way to avoid saying that, teacher, was the #1 promising job listed in the report. The long-held position that we have a “shrinking student population with rising costs” is short-sighted and lacks nuance to the reality of what Vermont currently needs. Respect for the educator role has been diminished in several ways over the years but fundamentally–the role needs respect, a secure pension, and reasonable wages. Young people can see what teachers are experiencing and thus fewer and fewer are choosing that career for themselves, with the national pipeline for educators down 50% (!), making this a serious issue both at the national level and here in Vermont.

● Dedicate resources: It is time to dedicate resources at the Agency of Education and the Department of Labor to develop a comprehensive educator recruitment and retainment campaign with investments in the short and long-term. A focused sprint team could help ensure efforts are synchronized and not duplicitous around the state. We are grateful for the recent focused attention on special education and we also need a broader campaign with commitment to state leadership for the scattered and localized efforts in Diversifying the Educator Workforce. These are important and practical steps for increasing the educator workforce generally while also addressing Vermont’s clear need to diversify the educator workforce.

● Licensing remains cumbersome with a clunky online system and frustrating barriers for existing and potential educators. The pathway to licensure and renewal in Vermont needs to be clear, accessible, and well supported to help with this shortage. The pathways to becoming a licensed Vermont educator should be well promoted and communicated for recent graduates, people considering becoming an educator, and for educators considering moving to Vermont.

Steven Dellinger-Pate, U-32 Principal and 2021 Vermont High School Principal of the Year, is a board member for the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation and is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Development Board. He writes,

I am glad to see the Department of Labor and McClure Foundation report highlight the need for teachers in Vermont. One of the goals of the Governor’s Workforce Development Board, is to provide training and education so we can develop high-demand career pathways. That training and education begins in our elementary, middle, and high schools and is led by highly-qualified teachers. In order to grow our overall workforce in Vermont, we need to ensure that we have the teaching force necessary to make that happen. I look forward to continuing my work with the Governor, the Agency of Education, and the Workforce Development Board to grow the educator workforce.

The latest Vermont Promising Jobs Report makes the necessary investments in the educator workforce undeniable. We know that schools are the center of community-building for each and every community in Vermont. Educators are democracy and economic builders. Thriving public schools serve as the bedrock from which strength and stability are built. A passive state leadership response to these shortages or worse, a “right sizing” outlook is not only hurting students and communities currently, it will have lasting negative effects for decades to come. As articulated in Vermont’s constitution, the right to a public education is not up for debate and thus addressing the educator workforce shortage must happen in order to ensure this public good can serve as the foundation that Vermont needs going forward.