They are long gone, and they aren’t coming back. Oregon is in a state of teacher crisis as Oregon teachers have been vacating the profession in droves, with a large bulk of them not returning to duty. The numbers are perilous which has the Oregon legislature digging deep in their pockets in an attempt to breathe life back into the slowly dying teacher workforce.
House Bill 4030 was, at first, a simple placeholder bill. There was virtually nothing in it, a blank page that had House Education Committee Chair Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, initiating a directive to lawmakers to find ways to recruit and, more importantly, retain teachers and other school staff. The drop in numbers has become even more decided as the COVID pandemic enters year three.
Across the state, school districts have reported their teacher shortages in areas such as English-language learning and special education. They also see a major drop in their substitute teacher ranks but the exodus is not limited to classrooms. Other important school staff employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers are also part of the shortage.
The numbers, though, are huge. Oregon Employment Department economists Gail Krumenauer and Anna Johnson have reported that public schools eliminated nearly 7,200 jobs between winter and spring of 2020, all due to the COVID pandemic shuttering of schools. By the time spring 2021 graced the state, Oregon was only able to get back around 1,100 of those positions. The state employment economists did note that the hiring of Oregon teachers jumped a bit when in-person teaching came back in the fall, but schools could not fill all job openings.
House Bill 4030 is now filled to the brim with proposals; incentives that the state hopes will entice teachers and other staff members to return. One proposal would change teacher licensing. This would allow any out-of-state teacher to work in the state without having to get relicensed. It would ease up on professional development requirements for certification as well as recertification. It would also provide much-needed financial support in refunding Oregon substitute teachers and teaching assistants for costs incurred for training to get certified.
There is more to HB 4030. The proposal also includes a reduction in the number of background checks a potential Oregon teacher candidate must submit too. These definitely slow down the certification process. An HB 4030 passage would also suspend classroom reporting requirements that federal law doesn’t require, and it would also have the Oregon Department of Education create a statewide jobs portal. This way, potential teacher candidates would be able to apply for openings across all school districts instead of having to get on to each individual school district website.
One last thing HB 4030 is asking for is for the legislature to approve additional funding. This would go to schools so they could use the money as recruitment bonuses and to retain teachers and other school staff. It was also suggested by the chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, that the schools could also use the federal COVID pandemic relief funds to pay bonuses.
There was one part of the Oregon teachers proposal that was ultimately removed from HB 4030 and it would have seen employees of any state agencies who are credentialed teachers be required to spend at a minimum of five days teaching each calendar school year. Even though it didn’t make the proposal, Dembrow feels it should have. “I still believe there’s an argument to be made for expecting people working in education policy to have ongoing classroom experience,” he said via the Oregon Capital Chronicle. “But, there are a lot of questions about how that would work.”
So, is the state grasping at straws? Is it enough or are teachers lost to Oregon? The state is confident the proposal has what it takes. The House Education Committee accepted the bill unanimously and now the next stop for it will be the House Rules Committee. If it passes muster there, which is expected, it then moves on to the Joint Committee On Ways And Means before getting the big vote by the Oregon legislature.