Teacher and students
Julie Cleve, reading specialist at a Salem elementary school, helps students learn about length and measurement. (File photo by Rachel Alexander/The Salem Reporter)

A package geared at growing the teacher workforce amid pandemic shortages passed the Senate Thursday and goes to Gov. Kate Brown for final approval.

The only Senate votes against the plan came from Republican Sens. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Chuck Thomsen of Hood River.

House Bill 4030 provides nearly $100 million for districts to use for recruitment and retention efforts, including bonuses, and to reimburse substitute teachers and instructional assistants for training costs they incur through January 2024.

The state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission will receive $700,000 to establish license reciprocity so out-of-state teachers could skip relicensing, improve the application process for school employees in Oregon and create a single place to apply for school jobs across the state. Currently, job seekers have to go district to district to apply.

The package was the product of a 50-person working group that convened in December. It was led by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and included teachers, representatives from the Oregon Department of Education, the state’s largest teachers union, the Oregon School Boards Association, the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators and several colleges and universities around the state. 

Since the pandemic began, districts have reported shortages of teachers in specific areas like English-language learning and special education, among paraprofessionals as well as substitute teachers and other vital school employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

According to a report from state employment economists Gail Krumenauer and Anna Johnson at the Oregon Employment Department, public schools eliminated about 7,200 jobs between the winter and spring of 2020 due to Covid shuttering schools, and by spring 2021, had only added back about 1,100 of those jobs. Hiring did ramp up for the return to fully in-person instruction last fall, but schools were not able to fill all openings, the report said.

In a speech in the Senate, Dembrow said the schools across the state had more than 2,000 positions they needed to fill by last summer.

Dembrow said the bill was just a start, and that longer term solutions would be needed to deal with Oregon’s specific school employee shortages that have persisted for years. 

“Like so much that we’ve experienced in the Covid pandemic, the pandemic did not create the shortage; rather, it exposed weaknesses in our system that have been years in the making,” he said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.