PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A report from the Arizona Department of Education shows that while overall teacher numbers didn't change much during the pandemic, the number of specialty teachers – special ed, bilingual, art/music, and reading intervention teachers, for example – in the state is declining.
"As is often the case, our most vulnerable students and the teachers who support their learning have been impacted the most by the pandemic," said Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. "This is why we must ensure schools have the funding they need to recruit and retain these invaluable education experts."
Special education teacher Torrie Davis of the Madison School District thinks the workload of teaching online and in-person at the same time was too much for some teachers. "Some of it probably comes down to also being overworked and so I think they also need to look at how much work they're giving us and set boundaries," she said.
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas says the "20 by 2020" plan that gave Arizona teachers a gradual 20% raise over three years happened too slowly. He argues that an immediate 20% raise would have immediately given the state an advantage in attracting qualified teachers. "Arizona's going to have to make significant investments in their schools if we want to have competitive salaries so we can end this shortage of teachers," Thomas said.
Davis worries about kids missing out on speech and occupational therapy hours and that kids aren't as well-rounded without elective classes. "They're not getting P.E. They're not getting that hour of exercise. They're not getting to do arts and crafts and express themselves," she said.
The Arizona Teacher Workforce Report shows that schools serving low-income families have more inexperienced and alternatively certified teachers. More than 3,100 Arizona teachers are working without a certification, and more than 900 are working with an emergency certification.
"It's wonderful to have community members that are willing to step forward when there's a crisis," Thomas said. "But if you're the parent of that third grader, you don't just want a good third-grade teacher; you want the best third-grade teacher."
The number of teachers at online schools surged by 136% during the pandemic, and the education department expects online learning to stick around as an option for kids. The workforce report also showed that while school districts lost 55,000 kids in enrollment in the past year, charter schools gained about 18,000.