Gov. Brian Kemp wants to increase the number of teachers in Georgia schools by allowing retirees to return to work full time in regions with the greatest need while growing the ranks of newcomers.
The governor is backing a legislative package, presented Tuesday, that would make it easier for veterans to become teachers, help teacher colleges recruit more minority students and work with colleges to improve teacher training.
The initiatives are part of Kemp’s overall effort to aid schools this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the educator workforce, causing an untold number of infections and several deaths, and debate over whether in-person schooling is safe.
Last month, Kemp announced plans to restore a majority of the money he cut from school budgets last year as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the economy. He and state School Superintendent Richard Woods also are putting some of the state’s federal coronavirus aid package toward $1,000 educator bonuses.
The new legislative proposal, which is backed by Woods, is less about funding than about removing obstacles to teacher recruitment.
Currently, retired teachers can draw a pension while returning to work in the classroom, but state law limits them to part-time hours. Kemp’s proposal would strike the 49% time restriction, allowing retirees to work full time in regions of the state with acute shortages.
The legislation would also ease alternative teacher credentialing of military veterans, require that school districts using rules that allow them to put less time into job reviews invest the time saved into mentoring teachers, place the state teacher of the year as an advisor to the governor’s state education board, work with colleges to improve teacher training, and work with historically Black colleges and universities to recruit more Black college students into teacher preparation programs.
There was no estimated cost, if any, of the legislative package. Leaders from the state Senate and House predicted it would pass both chambers.
The two largest teacher advocacy groups, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators, embraced the measures.
“It’s a tough time to be an educator and we applaud Gov. Kemp’s effort to enhance the Georgia teacher pipeline,” said Margaret Ciccarelli, the director of legislative services for PAGE.
Kemp did not take questions about his proposals, and his office did not have copies of the pending legislation.
Buster Evans, who leads the state’s teacher retirement system, said he hadn’t seen the actual bills but said he didn’t expect them to cost the state pension system anything. Retired teachers who return to work full time would have to pay the normal contribution into the pension system, so they wouldn’t be offsetting payments by non-retirees who might have been hired in their place, he said.
Teacher shortages have been an acute issue during the pandemic, but Stephen Pruitt, executive director of the Southern Regional Education Board, said they are also a long-term problem. There have long been shortages, particularly in rural areas, in specialties such as math, science and special education. But Pruitt, whose group advises Georgia and 15 other states, said some states are beginning to have unfilled openings in elementary schools.
The profession has been under a microscope for years, he said, and as respect for the field has fallen so have the number of young people choosing the career. In 2018, Georgia teacher colleges turned out 3,800 graduates, Pruitt said, down nearly a third from 5,400 five years earlier.
Pruitt called Kemp’s proposals “a very clear and overt intention to raise the profile of the profession.” He said more such efforts in the future will be needed to restore morale and boost recruitment and retention.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution