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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Mountain West states look for solutions to widespread teacher shortages

Some teachers are reporting mounting pressure.
John Moore
Getty Images
Some teachers have been are reporting increased burnout and anxiety since the pandemic.

News brief: 

Officials across the Mountain West are looking for ways to recruit and retain more teachers in local schools. While salary changes are a large part of discussions, low pay isn’t the only thing contributing to this critical labor shortage.

Teachers have reported high rates of burnout and anxiety since the pandemic. More than half of educators say they’re ready to quit the profession earlier than they had expected, according to a 2022 study from the National Education Association. That’s a troubling trend for an industry that’s already short about 300,000 educators and staff members.

Other concerns teachers have include a lack of safety, poor student behavior and an increase in scrutiny from parents and public officials. Kevin Vick of the Colorado Education Association said in a recent legislative hearing that bureaucratic hiccups also contribute to the shortage.

“For educators moving to the state of Colorado, pursuing a Colorado teaching license has proven to be a significant burden, and in some cases, a barrier,” he said.

That’s why some state lawmakers are pursuing a bill that would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to get licensed in Colorado. Eighty-five percent of educators there say the current shortage in classrooms is “significantly or somewhat worse than previous school years,” according to a state report.

“Respecting our educators as professional experts means centering our voices and expertise in legislation that affects our work,” Vick said.

In Wyoming and Nevada, state officials have created task forces to focus on teacher recruitment and retention. Some recommendations include increasing general education funding, expanding training and mentorship programs and granting student loan forgiveness. Governors in Idaho and Utah have supported increasing starting teacher pay. In New Mexico, lawmakers want to create tax breaks for those who buy their own school supplies.

At the national level, the White House is partnering with job websites like ZipRecruiter to try and expand hiring in K-12 schools. Federal officials are also advocating for higher wages and apprenticeship programs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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