Ongoing teacher shortage sparks debate

Local News

The Hawaii State Teachers Association calls it a crisis that continues to get worse every year. 

They are looking at ways to keep qualified teachers in Hawaii, but HSTA said the bottom line is that it will take more money.

Carrie Rose was born and raised in Wahiawa. She’s been a special education teacher at Waialua Elementary for three years, but leaves for Colorado next month.

“I have secured a teaching position there. It’s been a hard decision to make, but I just cannot survive in Hawaii on a teacher salary anymore. I’m sad that I have to leave my home. I’m sad that I’m leaving my friends. I’m leaving a great school. I love what I do. I love going to work every day. My colleagues, my administration, everything is great. It’s just really unfortunate that I have to make this change in order to provide my kids a quality-of-life,” Rose explained.

Rose is not alone. According to Department of Education statistics, over a seven-year-period, the number of those leaving for the mainland increased 84 percent.

In the 2016 to 2017 school year, 411 teachers moved away out of a total of more than 13,000 teachers, or roughly three percent.

HSTA president Corey Rosenlee says it will continue to happen unless we take better care of our educators.

“If we adjust for cost of living, teachers in Hawaii are the lowest paid teachers in the nation,” Rosenlee said.

Rosenlee said there’s also a problem with finding enough qualified teachers to teach in Hawaii.

“There’s circumstances where kids are taking Spanish classes and the teacher doesn’t speak Spanish. Physics classes where the teacher doesn’t know physics or calculus,” Rosenlee said. “Even if throughout the day they have six out of seven teachers that do know, that one teacher, say it’s an algebra teacher,  they’re going to have long-term consequences. How are they expected to do Algebra 2 next year?”

According to a DOE study, nearly 30-40 percent of students in Waianae and Nanakuli have teachers that are inexperienced, unqualified, or teaching out of their field.

Felicia Villalobos has been a teacher on Kauai for 10 years. She said she sees unqualified teachers in classrooms all the time.

“It’s happening a lot more in the special education field and that’s unfortunate. Even at my own school we have substitutes of substitutes,” Villalobos said.

Schools superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said the special education teacher shortage needs to be fixed first and suggested bold actions to be taken to solve the ongoing problems.

“The question is what we are willing to do and not keep tinkering on the edges a little more things that we’ve done before that gives us some impact, but doesn’t give us a significant impact,” Kishimoto said.

One of the ways HSTA hopes to resolve the shortage is through a constitutional amendment. Hawaii voters will be asked to decide on a plan to raise money for education through a property tax surcharge on second properties worth more than a million dollars.

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