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DESE unveils new recruitment initiative amid teacher shortage 

As the nation grapples with a teacher shortage, Missouri is reaching out to the next generation of educators through a new recruitment platform is an online compilation of resources for prospective teachers, allowing them to access free training programs, scholarships, one-on-one advice, and internship opportunities. The initiative is a collaboration between the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), universities, schools, and nonprofits to boost interest among the state’s workforce. 

“Research continues to show the No. 1 school-level factor that impacts a student’s learning is their teacher,” Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said. “I hope Missouri families, educators, and K-12 stakeholders take note of this new campaign and can see our agency’s commitment to addressing this serious issue for our state.”

The website compiled information on the teaching profession in Missouri, in addition to step-by-step guides on earning an education degree and entering the workforce. The program was built to enhance the perception of the teaching profession and encourage students to pursue education degrees, according to DESE. 

DESE is spearheading multiple efforts to bolster the state’s education workforce over the next three years, including an investment in its Pathways To Teaching Careers Program, which seeks to ensure students are ready for an education career upon graduation. The department is also committing $50 million in local teacher recruitment and retention efforts, allowing districts to apply for $10,000 grants. 

A digital advertising push using television, radio, and online platforms will also attempt to reach out to possible future educators. 

“As a proud supporter of public education, I know that great teachers are crucial to the workforce development goals of my administration,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “Well-trained, effective teachers ensure Missouri students graduate ready to be successful in whatever path they pursue, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the teachers in my life. We are thrilled to see DESE prioritizing and investing in this important effort.”

The last decade saw a 25 percent drop in enrollment for teacher preparation programs, according to DESE, significantly impacting urban and rural schools and education areas that are harder to staff, such as special education and math. 

For the past six years, Missouri has reported an 11 percent turnover rate without replacements, exceeding the 8 percent national average. Schools are then forced to leave positions vacant or fill them with underqualified replacements. 

Vandeven told legislators earlier this year recruitment and retention were among the department’s biggest obstacles, along with a lack of mental health services and the digital divide. 

Missouri altered its substitute teaching requirements in August to address the shortage, permanently giving applicants the choice between the standard 60 hours of college credit hours or 20 hours of online training to obtain a certificate. 

Western Governors University Chancellor Angie Besendorfer previously told The Missouri Times teacher shortages were “critical” across 17 disciplines, including math, science, and language arts. Besendorfer said low wages could lead to other states importing Missouri’s education workforce if conditions did not improve.  

Other sectors in Missouri are facing their own staffing challenges: Missouri remains under a state of emergency due to a shortage of health care workers amid the pandemic, allowing the Missouri National Guard to continue providing emergency support. 

Representatives from the Department of Mental Health (DMH) also told lawmakers last month the shortage in their industry was a “crisis.”