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.
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