SALT LAKE CITY ― Utah’s public schools need more teachers to fill their classrooms, but state colleges say young students are showing hardly any interest in the profession.
Though undergraduate degrees from Utah colleges have grown 25 percent in the past decade, teaching diplomas have grown only a fraction of that rate with only a 5 percent increase in the same period, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Last year, the Utah System of Higher Education graduated 1,350 teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
“I can’t produce enough teachers for the need,” said Maria Franquiz, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Education.
Utah’s public school population has grown by 23 percent in the past decade. A 2007 state study found new teachers often leave the field within three years and predicted that half of Utah’s teachers will be eligible for retirement by 2017.
Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh says education leaders are struggling with a lack of interest in teaching, and the lowest per-student funding in the nation.
“We have a serious crisis on our hands,” she said.
On top of lagging interest and low funding, teachers in the state are facing an increasingly negative perception. Last year state legislators called teachers lazy and state School Superintendent Brad Smith compared teachers asking for more funding to children begging for more presents on Christmas.
“I have my friends saying, ‘There’s no way I would tell my child to go into education,’” Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.
Deputy State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said the low interest in teaching was seen this summer when K-12 schools had vacant positions until just weeks ahead of the first day of school.
“We’re having a hard time enticing people into the profession,” Dickson said.
Granite School District, second-largest in the state, offered $500 bonuses that helped fill 14 percent of its jobs. Granite spokesman Ben Horsley says he doesn’t expect rewards to solve the problem in the long-term. He said human resources employees have been flying to states including Oregon to convince teachers to move, with 180 making the switch to Utah this year.
He said the need “peaked last year.
“It could get worse.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Utah is not alone. There was a 30 percent drop in teachers nationwide from 2008 to 2012.