Southern Colorado schools dealing with teacher shortage

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Colorado schools are having a hard time finding teachers.

"It's the worst that it's been in probably the last seven or eight years," said District 11 spokesperson Devra Ashby.

The topic is gaining more attention after Governor John Hickenlooper talked about the shortage in his final state address on Thursday. He announced they will be putting an additional $100 million "above enrollment and inflation" into Colorado schools.

11 News spoke with Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne who helped outline a report of the issue through Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). It lays out three main reasons causing the shortages: a decline in interest, retention and retirement.

Meanwhile, southern Colorado school districts are feeling the impacts. District 11 say they are having the most trouble finding and retaining qualified teachers -- especially for fields including math, science and early education. The schools are now forced to have bigger class sizes.

Rick Eddy has two kids at Doherty High School and said one of his kids sees those impacts.

"Our freshman -- he has some pretty crowded classes." Eddy continued, "I wouldn't like to see classes that crowded it has to affect the kids. They probably don't get enough special attention."

Ashby said a lot of the issues come down to money.

"When you cut into budgets, it means that you're going to cut into a few other things which may include salaries."

The average starting salary for a teacher in district 11 is a little more than $35,000. Ashby said many surrounding states offer higher starting salaries at a lower cost of living -- unlike the Colorado Springs housing market which continues to get more pricey. While Devra notes these shortages are nationwide, she says the problems are more "extreme" in Colorado.

"It's not uncommon to hear teachers have to talk about second jobs, having jobs in the summer, doing different things to gain more income, having roommates," she told 11 News.

Other parents 11 News spoke to said they aren't surprised there's a need for more qualified teachers.

"Teachers and preschool teachers are never paid enough. You cannot pay them enough to do what they do. It is hard work to love other people's children every day," says Donna Bonestroo.

Another mom from Doherty High School, Jessica Garcia, wants to see change too.

"I truly think that the government needs to step in and help get these teachers going and educated so they can be here to help educate our kids."

Governor Hickenlooper said rural communities are struggling the most. On top of the $100 million they are investing in Colorado schools, the state will also be investing an additional $10 million specifically for teacher shortages in rural areas.

In the CDHE report, it outlines four goals:

1) Increase teacher retention
2) Retain and attract educator talent by increasing pay and benefits
3) Attract teachers by developing targeted programs in areas of need
4) Increase enrollment and completion of education preparation programs

The state said they want to reach those goals by improving teacher working conditions, offering student loan forgiveness and housing incentives.

Lt. Lynne tells 11 News they have more money in the budget than they initially thought in November, but ultimately it is up to Governor Hickenlooper and state legislatures to decide how they want to spend it.

But, District 11 isn't convinced the state will put public education first.

"Every year they do say, 'well we're trying to infuse a little bit more into public education and while they have been trying we do still feel like it's still not at the point where it needs to be," says Ashby.

A few years ago, a charter school in Colorado Springs was contemplating buying an elementary school property and turning it into teacher housing. That fell through, but Ashby said it could be something they consider in the future if they don't see an improvement.