Just a few weeks before the opening of schools throughout Rhode Island, many school districts are still trying to fill teacher and other vacancies, according to published reports and comments from leading state educators.

But the teacher shortages in Rhode Island hardly compare with other states, where drastic measures are being considered to reduce the school week or hire uncertified individuals as teachers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are some 118,000 unfilled teacher positions nationwide, with expectations that will grow to 200,000 by 2025.

In some areas of the country, school districts are moving to four-day weeks, hopeful that will attract more teaching candidates, and in Florida giving veterans with just 60 college credits a five-year teaching certification. Critics say that hiring less than qualified individuals demeans the teaching profession and dilutes the quality of education.

In Rhode Island, districts like Providence are reporting teacher shortages, and in most communities, educators are scrambling to fill positions before school opens around Labor Day.

Newport School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain said “staffing is a challenge. My building principals are working around the clock to find certified qualified candidates – math, in particular, is very challenging. We are still getting applications though.”

Tom DiPaola, executive director of the Rhode Island Superintendents Association acknowledged that some districts are having difficulty filling teaching positions, with the major shortage in math and the sciences. He also said there is a major shortage among bus drivers. Jermain said that in Newport “my bus company is still looking for help.”

Across the state in Westerly, Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said the school system is perhaps three teachers short but said there are other shortages among bus drivers, substitute teachers, and mental health professionals.

“School psychologists are hard to come by,” he said.

While Garceau believes that academics are improving in the post-Covid era, a major concern is “behavioral concerns,” resulting from remote learning and “socialization” issues.

Rhode Island is not among the states most severely impacted by teacher shortages. The biggest shortages, according to Fresno Pacific University, “are happening in California, Nevada, Washington, Indiana, Arizona, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.

The shortages have resulted in some areas taking what might be considered drastic steps.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed several bills for the 2023 legislative session that he says are designed to bolster school districts’ efforts to recruit teachers. Among those would be legislation that would allow recruiting retired enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and firefighters who have bachelor’s degrees to teaching professions.

Meanwhile, Florida implemented a system on July 1 that would permit veterans with no degree to teach with a five-year certification, if they had at least 60 college credits. That has been met with considerable criticism from Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the teachers’ union.

In a statement, he said “students deserve to have professionally trained, experienced and supported teachers. 

“In order to recruit and retain teachers into the profession, the two most important elements are respect and pay,” Spar said. “Under Gov. DeSantis, teachers hear their profession demeaned on a regular basis and face an experience tax that has teachers with 10 or more years of experience earning the same pay as a first-year teacher.”

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.