TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas public school districts are finding it harder to fill vacant teaching positions this year, even though increased funding allowed many districts to offer higher salaries, according to a report released this week by the Kansas State Department of Education.
The report said 612 teaching positions are vacant this fall — a 19 percent increase from the same time last year. Most of the vacancies are in special education, followed by elementary education, English language arts, science and math.
MoDeputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander told the Lawrence Journal-World that it is getting more challenging to get people to apply for those positions.
The largest concentration of vacancies — 21 percent — are in the 5th District, which includes most of western Kansas.
None of the findings surprised Mark Tallman, director of advocacy and communications for the Kansas Association of School Boards.
“Historically, those vacancies tend to be clustered in certain fields and certain parts of the state,” said Tallman.
He said special education, math and science teaching positions have always been difficult to fill, as are positions in rural areas and regions with high poverty rates.
Kansas officials said they could not provide a simple explanation for the increase in vacancies.
One possible explanation is that schools are facing the same tight labor market that has made it difficult for many employers to find qualified applicants, even as salaries are increasing.
“Almost invariably, as the economy overall gets better, the teacher shortage gets worse,” Tallman said.
Another theory is that years of persistent state budget shortfalls made average teacher salaries in the state stagnate, which may discourage young people from careers as teachers.
“I don’t have the data, but what I’ve heard from universities is that this senior class of college graduates going into the education field is one of the smallest,” Neuenswander said. “I think the economy of the last eight to 10 years of no raises drew a lot of people that normally would have gone into the profession to choose something else.”
The report, which was delivered to the Kansas State Board of Education earlier this week, offered some positive news, including that the state is doing better at retaining young teachers. Over the past 10 years, the number of new teachers who stay in the profession after their third year of teaching has risen from less than 82 percent in 2009 to roughly 91 percent this year.
It also noted that Kansas is not losing large numbers of teachers to other states. Over the past year, the report indicated, 248 teachers moved out of Kansas while 568 teachers moved to Kansas from other states.