Colorado educators holding town halls to address state teacher shortage

FORT COLLINS, Colo. --  While more families are moving to Colorado, the state is facing a major shortage of teachers for the future.

Fewer men and women are signing up for teacher education programs.

It's no easy task, but the State Department of Education is drafting a statewide plan to address the teacher shortage.

There is a series of ongoing town hall meetings being held to ask for ideas to address recruiting and retaining more teachers, including Friday meeting at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Education professionals say the number of people becoming teachers is shrinking for several reasons.

"It's not as professional as they'd like to see it anymore,” said Colleen O'Neil, director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education.

“They're not being paid what they could be paid outside of the profession. They want some autonomy to be able to do that and they want all the tools and support and the mentoring."

The Department of Education said since 2010, it has seen a “24.4 percent  drop in graduates from teacher preparation programs with six consecutive years of decline in the number of people completing an educator program at Colorado colleges and universities.

"A 23 percent drop in enrollment in traditional education preparation programs. However, alternative programs have experienced an increase of approximately 40 percent enrollment, providing about 24 percent of the total educator workforce.

"While overall numbers are low, we did see an increase in diversity among our teacher candidates -- the number of African American, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial candidates increased last year. Rural districts are having a particularly tough time recruiting and retaining teachers. “

"It's definitely tough to get them in," said Heidi Frederiksen, director of CSU’S educator preparation program. “We're ramping up recruiting like we've never had to do before. "

But she hears similar reasons people don’t stay or enter the program.

"'I want to have a family someday, want to buy a house. I have student loans.' You know $30,000 is not going to cut it in Colorado," she said.

Rural areas are being hardest hit especially in math, science and special education.

The statewide community meetings are gathering ideas from parents, students, teachers, retirees and business leaders to better recruit and retain teachers.

"Education is the profession upon which all other professions are built without our educators we have no other professions,” O’Neil said.

But Colorado has remained low for education spending for several years in part because of the TABOR amendment that makes attracting teachers even harder.

"How do we get that word out there that we love the job we do and that we're doing amazing things with kids and that kids are doing amazing things,” Frederiksen said.