Indiana put itself on a path toward its current teacher shortages.

The COVID-19 pandemic can be blamed for compounding the problem.

An annual survey by Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education showed that 96.5% of Indiana school districts that responded report teacher shortages in the current 2021-2022 school year. More than two-thirds of districts responded — 199 out of Indiana’s 290 school corporations.

That marks the highest percentage of shortages since the Bayh College began the yearly survey in 2015.

The pandemic put every school and its district under unprecedented pressure. As every Hoosier knows, schools had to toggle between teaching students in person and online, upending teachers’ normal patterns of delivering lessons, grading and coaching kids. The wearing of face masks — the most effective tool at the time to protect kids and adults inside those buildings — turned into a surreal, political food fight during the previous 2020-21 school year. The state gave Indiana teachers no special consideration in the distribution of vaccines, once those medicines earned federal emergency approval.

That scenario alone provided enough reasons for teachers and prospective teachers to do something else.

“This year and last year have brought more challenges than many previous (years),” said Terry McDaniel, the ISU professor of educational leadership who oversees the survey. “As a result, we are seeing educators being burned out, scared, disappointed and no longer enjoying the profession. We are also seeing fewer people entering the profession.”

The shortest supply of teachers comes in the special-education and math disciplines, but shortages also exist for science, elementary education, foreign languages and English.

As universally disruptive as COVID-19 has been, Indiana’s teacher shortage already was a problem before the pandemic. One primary cause was salaries, especially those for starting teachers. With the Indiana General Assembly resisting calls for legislation to raise teacher pay, Gov. Eric Holcomb assembled his Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission. Indiana ranked ninth in the Midwest and 38th nationally in average teacher pay, according to the commission. Even more troubling was a Rockefeller Institute report showing that Indiana ranked last in America in the increase in average teacher pay from 2002 to 2019.

Holcomb’s commission recommended the state allot $600 million annually to boost teacher pay to an average of $60,000 overall and a minimum starting salary of $40,000.

The ruling Republican leadership in the Indiana General Assembly did not leap toward meeting that goal during its session last winter and spring. Legislators did, though, eventually approve a state budget providing the $600 million yearly allotment for teacher pay recommended by the governor’s commission. That happened after an infusion of $3 billion in COVID-19 relief from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.

The lawmakers’ hesitant approach stems from an ideological mindset that has pervaded for a dozen years, perpetually demeaning the performance of public-school teachers and public schools. That attitude has taken a toll.
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