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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

To get special-ed teachers, pay more

Teaching special-needs students is challenging and stressful.

Special education teachers are in short supply across the country, and have been for as long as I can remember. Hawaii has a radical approach, writes Dylan Peers McCoy on NPR. The state, which is one huge public school district, pays more. Special-ed teachers earn an extra $10,000 a year.

The extra money persuaded Heather Carll to return to special-ed teaching, McCoy reports.

Before the incentive, in October 2019, almost 30% of the state’s special education positions were vacant or staffed by teachers without appropriate licenses, district data shows. By October 2021, that number dropped by half, to about 15%.

Differential pay also is helping in Detroit, which began paying special-ed teachers $15,000 more this school year, writes McCoy.

Atlanta began offering new special-ed teachers $3,000 bonuses in 2019 to compete with neighboring districts. Within a month, 30 vacancies were filled. This school year, in a pilot program Atlanta is offering those incentives to all special education teachers.

Paying more could “make sense financially” if districts start thinking about the cost of recruiting and replacing teachers, says Chad Aldeman, who studies school finance at Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab.

However, teachers and their unions often resist paying more to teachers with hard-to-find skills. They want everyone to be treated the same, whether they’re teaching physics or phys ed.

Some California districts are paying extra for bilingual teachers, who also are in short supply, I wrote for Education Next. In the past, schools relied on aides, often native Spanish speakers with a high school education. It was a disaster. Now that most programs use the double-immersion model, which appeals to educated native-English-speaking parents, they can’t get away with that.

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