PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The teacher shortage in Arizona was supposed to get better after Gov. Doug Ducey paved the way for a bump in pay a few years ago. However, a new survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association shows the state still has a big problem. According to the study, 24% of the public school teacher positions across the state remain vacant, and there's no indication they'll be filled any time soon.
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Dawn Penich-Thacker of the grassroots group Save our Schools Arizona says said that despite the recent 20% teacher pay hike, Arizona still ranks near the bottom nationwide when it comes to average teacher salaries. "We've been so far behind for so long that we still have this huge funding shortfall," she said. "We can't keep good teachers, and we can't pay them enough to bring new folks in. There's not enough qualified people applying. But there's not even enough unqualified people applying, especially in most needed fields like science and math and engineering."
Right now, there are roughly 1,800 classrooms across the state missing a permanent teacher. That has forced public and charter schools to get creative. They're filling the vacancies with long-term substitutes, using student teachers, and hiring teachers with emergency certificates.
Arizona Superintendent of Education Kathy Hoffman will be leading the fight at the state Capitol this year to make teacher salaries here are more competitive with those in other states. She said that lawmakers have to look at this as an economic development issue that makes teacher jobs more attractive. "We're looking over at Utah, where they are planning to offer their teachers $60,000 for a starting salary for all teachers," she said. "What are our future teacher candidates thinking if they can go to Utah and make $10,000 to $20,000 more? We need to be more regionally competitive."
Lawmakers will have a chance to address the teacher shortage starting Monday when the new legislative session gets underway.