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State may run short on teachers

By M.J. Ellington
DAILY Staff Writer (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama's teacher shortage of 2005 could grow into a crisis by 2007 unless the state develops better ways to attract and retain teachers.

State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton wants a plan for the state to attract teachers, and he wants to take advantage of an existing way for people who did not major in education in college to be approved to teach.

Alabama already has a teacher shortage in some parts of the state and faces competition from states like Georgia, where higher salaries and signing bonuses are common recruiting tools.

In addition, an unknown number of teachers who took advantage of the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program and continued teaching will likely retire by 2007.

That is when many of the teachers who signed up for the DROP program at its inception will reach the limit on the time the program allows them to keep teaching.

Add to the shortage a predicted need for more than 500 new physical education teachers in the next three years, and Morton predicts the problem could reach serious proportions.

Morton and state Board of Education members expect to look at the issue again at their September board meeting.

The superintendent wants the board to approve funds for a task force to develop a plan to keep good teachers and acquire new ones. Morton said a significant number of principals will retire in the next few years as well.

The DROP issue came up because when the program to retain skilled state and education workers was new in 2003, workers had the option to delay what had been mandatory retirement after 25 years. DROP allowed them to continue working for either three or five more years and then receive a lump-sum financial bonus at retirement. Many teachers signed up to work until 2007, when they must retire.

Board member Betty Peters, R-Dothan, wondered why the state does not have a way to hire people with non-education degrees to teach subjects in which they have expertise.

Morton said Alabama has had an alternative certification program since the mid-1990s, which enables people with degrees in other fields to begin work in education without a traditional teaching certificate. People interested in the program must have the approval of the local school superintendent where they want to teach and then must go through a state certification process while they teach. Many times there is no need to get an additional degree in education.

Shortages aren't likely to end with retired scientists or engineers who fill teaching gaps, however.

Morton also wants almost 600 new physical education teachers for grades kindergarten through eighth, and they may be hard to find, even if the Legislature approves an estimated $36 million budget increase to put them in place over a two-year period.

Alabama schoolchildren are more overweight than children in any other state, according to surveys. State Student Health Initiative studies recommended a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day to help children slim down and avoid more serious health problems later in life.

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