LIHUE — Hawaii’s teacher shortage has reached “crisis proportions,” according to Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee, who appeared before the Board of Education Thursday to address the state’s ongoing struggles to retain qualified educators.
In the last six years, the number of teachers leaving Hawaii for the mainland has increased by 71 percent, according to figures released by the Department of Education. Over 420 of the state’s roughly 13,000 teachers left Hawaii last year. The teacher shortage increased slightly this year, with more than 1,000 vacancies, according to the HSTA.
The problem goes beyond a need for staffing. Rosenlee said a large number of the remaining teachers are inexperienced, as new recruits are constantly needed to replace those that have left, a situation which ultimately has a negative impact on student achievement, particularly in schools serving low-income students and students of color where turnover rates are highest.
The shortage is hurting the state financially as well, according to Rosenlee, who said that teacher replacement expenses related to separation, recruitment, hiring and training can range from $9,000 per teacher in rural districts to more than $20,000 in urban areas.
“Unfortunately, the real cost of teacher attrition is paid not by the state, but by our students,” Rosenlee said.
A response from DOE Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Covell to a request for comment on the issue did not mention additional public school funding.
“As the largest employer in the state, we have a tremendous responsibility to recruit and develop quality employees, who are our greatest asset,” Covell wrote in an email. “Our data show that we are hiring more experienced teachers and continue to reduce our vacancies. There is still room for improvement and we will continue to implement innovative talent management strategies, including growing our local talent pool, tapping into former military personnel through Troops to Teachers, alternate paths to teaching and alternative pathways to licensure.”
The solution, in Rosenlee’s opinion, is a straightforward one.
“The most glaring source of the teacher retention problem is pay,” he said, adding that Hawaii’s high cost of living, coupled with current teacher salaries, often leaves new educators in an unsustainable financial situation.
“Hawaii’s teachers are not only poorly compensated when they start — their future outlook is also quite bleak,” Rosenlee said, describing an “appalling lack of upward mobility.”
He concluded with a plea on behalf of the teacher’s association, asking policy makers for additional public school funding that would allow for better teacher compensation.
“HSTA asks you to focus on this issue. It cannot be overlooked,” Rosenlee said.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.