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GOP Bill Would Require an Annual Report on Teacher Turnover in Arizona

The latest Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey found over 6,000 Arizona classrooms vacant or run by an unqualified teacher.

(Richard Ross/Getty Images)

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Schools in Arizona are consistently strained by an ongoing teacher shortage, but data on the scope of the problem doesn’t exist, making it difficult to come up with a solution.

Lawmakers and Gov. Katie Hobbs are hoping to fix that by requiring that the State Board of Education, which oversees public schools, begin collecting more information on where, who and why teachers are missing.

In December, a task force convened by Hobbs to study strategies to encourage educator retention released a report of its findings after months of research. Along with raising pay and making health insurance more affordable, the task force also recommended that the State Board of Education analyze the success rates of different teacher training programs in creating candidates who remain in the profession long-term.

It also advised that the board be required to issue an annual report looking at teacher turnover by subject area, school location, and teacher demographics, including race, ethnicity and years of experience.

The board is currently working with Hobbs’ office and the state charter schools board to determine how to compile those reports.

A Republican proposal inspired by the conclusions of the governor’s task force also seeks to capture a better snapshot of the teacher vacancy crisis. House Bill 2608, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gress, a Phoenix Republican and former teacher, would mandate that the board put together an annual report on teacher retention, turnover and vacancies to send to the governor and legislative leaders.

The report would include information on the subject area, grade level, school location, and type of school (whether it’s a district or charter school) where vacancies occur, as well as how long those vacancies take to fill. And, to determine the impact of training on retention, turnover rates for certificated teachers would be compared to those of non-certificated teachers.

Gress, a freshman lawmaker who ran his campaign on raising teacher pay, told the Mirror that his bill would give lawmakers a better idea of how to help.

“We need to know where the vacancies are, at what schools and what subjects, to make informed decisions about our retention and recruitment strategy,” he said.

Until now, information on the teacher shortage has been piecemeal and scattered. The School District Employee Report examines the level of experience among instructors by school, district and county. The Classroom Teacher Attrition and Retention survey, conducted by the Arizona Department of Education, looks at teacher experience, age, ethnicity and certification status and identifies the percentage of teachers who were “dropped” from the previous year’s report. But that loss can mean a teacher retired, left the profession, moved out of state or simply accepted a different position.

An annual survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, a nonprofit membership group advocating on behalf of school human resources personnel, is currently the most comprehensive window into the teacher vacancy crisis. Its latest survey, released in September, found that the state’s teacher shortage had stretched into its eighth year, with more than 6,000 Arizona classrooms vacant or run by an unqualified teacher.

But even that survey isn’t a complete analysis. Participation is voluntary, and last year only 131 school districts and charter schools offered their input. Arizona has 571 charter schools and 201 public school districts.

Gress’ measure would make data reporting by schools mandatory.

On Tuesday, during a hearing for the bill in the House Education Committee, Arizona State Board of Education Executive Director Sean Ross told lawmakers that more clarification might be needed to build the report the measure requests. While information on teacher retention and recruitment is easier to collect because of federal reporting requirements, finding data on vacancies is more complicated.

“Where we need some guidance is in that vacancy space, just because that is such qualitative data. What qualifies as a vacancy?” Ross asked.

A classroom without a teacher at the helm is immediately understood as a vacancy. But, Ross pointed out, the bill doesn’t cover improperly certificated staff who take over a class when needed. When he worked as a sixth grade English teacher, for example, Ross said he taught a social studies course despite not being certificated to do so when the social studies teacher quit.

In its September 2023 survey, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association identified more than three thousand teacher vacancies that were resolved via alternative methods, such as with a long-term substitute, a teacher with a 6/5ths contract (meaning they weren’t afforded planning time) or by expanding another teacher’s class size to include students left in the lurch.

Ross added that, while the State Board of Education is neutral on the bill, it would also support including a funding source, since compiling and analyzing data is time-consuming and complex — a request that could be hard to comply with, given the state’s large and growing budget deficit.

“This is a requirement of quite a bit of data collection, creating a methodology by which we would collect the data, and then having the data analyzed in a way that’s valid and reliable. So, there would be a need for some resources,” he said.

Chris Kotterman, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Board Association, echoed that sentiment, saying that schools would be faced with even more work to take on, and that a lot of the information is already collected by the state Department of Education.

“We would very much like to be mindful of the burden that reporting data places on all LEA’s (local education agencies), and leverage our resources within the department of education to make sure that those current sources of data can be mined for the appropriate information,” he said.

Gress said he would be open to amendments to ease the strain on school officials and clarify the data collection process. The bill won bipartisan support from lawmakers on the committee panel, with all 9 members voting to approve it. It will next go before the entire House of Representatives for consideration by the full chamber.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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