Not enough school teachers

Mississippi has an acute shortage of school teachers, especially in impoverished districts, and it’s tempting to look at stopgap measures to alleviate the problem.

But lowering the requirements to get a license to teach isn’t the way to do it.

According to a report in the Clarion Ledger newspaper, eight school districts in the Delta were placed on probation in October by the Mississippi Department of Education for lacking licensed educators.

The same article said a number of Delta superintendents claim their best teacher prospects are already in the classroom but lack the proper credentials to teach.

State Rep. Orlando Paden, D-Clarksdale, is proposing legislation to make it easier for such teachers to obtain licenses without meeting all the standards now required.

Already there are Mississippi Department of Education rules in place to allow one-year licenses for teachers who have at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area they are teaching, and there are a few state incentives to attract teachers to impoverished districts.

But obviously there aren’t enough incentives, not only to get licensed  teachers in the poor districts but the affluent ones as well.

One solution would be to significantly raise the salaries of school teachers, but that would cost more than the Legislature and local districts are willing to spend.

The number of education majors coming out of Mississippi universities is said to be in sharp decline. Making teaching a more attractive and financially rewarding profession would be a good way to address that.

Keeping a teacher that is less than qualified  in the classroom, as Paden’s bill would do, may be better than having no teacher at all. But it certainly isn’t the solution to improving education where improvements are sorely needed.

Paden’s proposed legislation has a good element, though. Part of it proposes to address the teacher shortage by allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom and still receive retirement benefits.

Coincidentally, the Oxford Eagle, reporting on a legislative forum, quotes Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, as pushing legislation to allow retired school teachers to serve in the legislature and continue to draw their teacher retirement benefits.

That isn’t a bad idea, either. But good teachers are needed more in the classroom than in the Legislature.