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Attrition rates rising for Arkansas teachers

Arkansas’ teacher attrition rate has risen 3% since 2017 as 74% of teachers surveyed said stress and workload were the top reasons for wanting to leave the profession, according to the state’s Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR).

The attrition rate rose from 18% in 2017 to 21% in 2021, Adrienne Beck with the BLR told the Joint Education Committee on Tuesday. During that same time, the number of fully certified teachers in the state dropped from 100% to 93%.

Arkansas’ average teacher salary as of 2020 was $50,546, compared to the national average of $64,133, according to Jasmine Ray with the BLR. Salary levels generally declined with higher levels of free and reduced lunch populations and generally increased with higher concentrations of minority students, according to Ray.

Lawmakers passed legislation in the past two years to address the issue.

In 2021, the legislature created the Teacher Salary Equalization Fund to help address salary disparities. Additionally, the Arkansas General Assembly enacted the Teacher Salary Enhancement Act through the passage of Act 170 in 2019 which increased minimum teacher salary schedules and established minimum salaries for teachers based on years of experience and the type of degree earned by the teacher.

The state spent about $15 million in 2021 on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standard, a program which gives an annual bonus of $2,500 in low-poverty areas or $5,000 in high-poverty areas up to five years, according to the BLR.

The High-Priority District Recruitment and Retention program spent about $2 million in 2021 giving bonuses of $3,000 or $5,000 for newly hired teachers in high-priority districts, said Beck.

The Arkansas Geographical Critical Needs Minority Teacher Scholarship provides up to $1,500 per year to minority teachers who express intention to teach in geographical shortage areas. Fifty-eight teachers received this in 2021 for a total of more than $58,000 statewide, the BLR said.

Other financial incentives include programs for non-traditionally licensed teachers who teach in geographic or shortage subject areas as well as several loan forgiveness programs.

National research showed teachers were more likely to leave the profession without comprehensive preparation, according to Beck. She said best practices for addressing this included teacher residencies, grow your own programs, and teacher license reciprocity. As of 2021, the state had eight different methods for gaining alternative certification, according to Beck.

Cost of teacher preparation and low teacher salaries were seen as big obstacles for people looking to enter the teaching profession.

Areas of academic shortages were biology, business, physics, chemistry, French, art, mathematics, and special education, said Beck. Special education has been on the list since 2008. Additionally, Beck said the amount of available potential educators who were preparing to be licensed or newly licensed was much lower in shortage areas in the state. Shortage areas had about 2,761 potential educators compared to more than 8,000 in non-shortage areas, according to Beck.

Attrition rates were higher in charter schools and in schools with higher concentrations of poverty and minority students, the BLR reported. Schools in the smallest districts had double the attrition rate compared to the larger districts.

A survey of principals in the state revealed 70% said their top teacher recruitment challenge was difficulty in offering competitive salaries.

This article was originally posted on Attrition rates rising for Arkansas teachers

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