Three years after the start of the pandemic, our schools and students are still feeling the effects. Teachers and administration officials were confronted with compounded challenges of addressing learning loss, an increasing mental health crisis in our children and youth, and a severe workforce shortage affecting almost every education profession. While districts struggle to meet the burgeoning needs, they do so without an adequate number of staff to help.
At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, there was a shortage of nearly 300,000 teachers and staff across the United States, with an even more pronounced need for special education and STEM teachers. Eighty percent of states reported special education shortages prior to the pandemic, with 48 out of 50 states reporting such shortages in 2021. This problem is expected to get worse.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently estimated the need for approximately 37,600 new special education teachers between 2020-2030 just to keep up with the increased demand. The lack of qualified special education staff is significant. Federal law requires that students with disabilities have access to fully licensed special education teachers, so a shortage of professionals may create compliance issues for districts and states.
These same shortages extend to the professionals providing supplemental services to children with special needs such as speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and behavioral and mental health counseling.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that technology, flexibility and innovation can make a difference. The use of technology can help; creating greater access to therapists and curriculum and allowing children to receive the services they need whenever they need them most.
As legislators and elected officials begin a new legislative session, they have the ability to pass policies that will directly impact the students they serve and begin to address the myriad of issues our children face today.