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March 28, 2024

CT bills would fight teacher shortage by changing pay, certification

JESSIKA HARKAY / CT MIRROR Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, urged students to apply for the Aspiring Educators Diversity Scholarship Program.

Legislation passed out of the Education Committee last week would raise starting salaries for educators and make it easier to obtain teacher certification, measures that some lawmakers hope will address teacher shortages and aid ongoing efforts to recruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce in Connecticut.

Language in Senate Bill 381 and House Bill 5348 proposes using state subsidies to raise the starting salary for educators up to $60,000 and to $45,000 for paraeducators, respectively.

But the bills could face an uphill battle due to their cost at a time when Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders are hesitant to step outside the state’s so-called fiscal guardrails and others, like social service agencies and higher education institutions, are also competing for more state funding. State subsidies, through the Office of Policy and Management, would be responsible for compensating school districts for the costs of the higher salaries, according to language in the bills.

“I think [this bill] is probably going to Appropriations and not making it much further,” said Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, during Wednesday’s vote. “If we want to get serious about the teaching profession and teacher recruitment or retention, in this legislature, … I think we need to start taking a hard look at the environment that we’re creating for our teachers when we put mandate after mandate on what they need to do in their classroom. … I think what we need to do is take a step back instead of putting bills like this forward that we know really aren’t going to make it.”

When asked how much the legislation would cost the state, Rep. Jeff Currey, the house co-chair, said a preliminary fiscal note would be issued after its passage from the committee.

“This, as any bill would typically run through the process, would get a preliminary fiscal note when it goes through Appropriations,” Currey said. “We’ll have a better sense at that point what that [cost] would be for the Office of Policy and Management to provide those subsidies to our local districts.”

House Bill 5436 would also make several changes to the teacher certification process to simplify the pathway toward professional status and make it easier for educators to teach among different grade levels.

“The situation we have here is systemic. It has been in place for a long time, and we could have done a lot more about this but we have sat on hands and knees and did nothing,” said Sen. Doug McCrory, co-chair of the Education Committee. “Research shows us that we have barriers in place that have made it very difficult to diversify this teaching population.”

Salary increases

TEACH Connecticut, a nonprofit that’s partnered with the state education department to recruit more educators into the field, reported that the average starting salary for teachers is around $43,000 — a key issue in terms of recruitment, retention and diversity, stakeholders said.

“Education is a workforce, and we’re in competition with a lot of other spaces to get people to come into our classrooms and teach,” said Kate Dias, the president of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. “We have to recognize that the same person who is in college considering ‘Do I want to be an actuary, an engineer or a math teacher?’ … [gets] to look at the compensation differences.”

Math teachers don’t expect to make the same amount of money as an engineer, Dias said.

“We’re not fools,” she said, adding that if education wants to remain on par with competing workforces, the range needs to be closer.

“I can’t be saying I’m gonna start at $42,000 as an educator, where I now have to live with my parents or I have to get three roommates or I could start as an engineer at $65,000 and be contemplating a complete different lifestyle,” Dias said.

Dias said a $60,000 starting salary, as proposed in SB 381, could also address an issue regarding “the pathway to the maximum” earning range, which has often been a reason teachers leave low-paying districts or the field completely.

“We start to see the transitioning of our educators around year seven to ‘I want to buy a house someday. Where am I gonna go? I might be committed to Bridgeport and feel strongly about my community, but I need to go to a district that’s going to pay me more’,” Dias said. “We have to really rethink how we get to the max. We have districts where it takes 19 years to get to the top level salary. In private industries that doesn’t exist. Can you imagine hiring an engineer and saying ‘No problem in 19 years, we’ll make sure you’re making $100,000’?”

“I almost didn’t go into this profession simply because of the pay,” said Kate Cummings, a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University who’s studying elementary education. “Somebody once said something to me that I will never forget and I keep trying to prove them wrong every single day. They said ‘You don’t get paid enough as a teacher and I thought that you were smarter than that.’ … I’m really glad that I did not listen to those doubts and go into another career because I love what I do, but love isn’t enough to keep aspiring educators teaching and in teacher preparation programs. Increasing the salary is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Beyond recruitment and retainment in the education field, salary also plays a role in diversity hiring.

From 2017-18 to 2022-23, the population of students of color grew by six percentage points from 46.5% to 52.5% whereas the number of educators of color only grew by 2.4 percentage points from 8.8% to 11.2%.

The state has pushed several recent measures including Grow Your Own programs and scholarship opportunities to bring more students of color and those from low-income backgrounds into teaching to make sure the workforce is more representative of its student body.

But with the average teaching salary starting around $40,000, it can ultimately keep educators from low-income backgrounds stuck in a cycle.

“According to the U.S. Census, the median earnings of a worker with a bachelor’s degree is $73,000. For those with a master’s degree it’s $87,000, so why would a young person go into career knowing that they will never catch up to the earning power of comparable jobs or constantly be left behind in terms of inflation?” said Ellen Eickenhorst, a high school special education teacher, during public testimony.

Provisions in HB 5348 addressed a handful of issues pertaining to paraeducators, including formally defining the job and its responsibilities and raising the starting salary to $45,000.

Paraeducators in Connecticut currently make, on average, between $16.25 to $23.32 an hour, or around $33,000 to $48,000, according to ZipRecruiter.


The biggest concern with changes to teacher certification was the question of whether a streamlined process would come at the expense of quality.

Lawmakers and Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker say no, and have clarified that existing legislation was severely outdated and changes are long overdue after remaining essentially untouched for nearly 30 years.

“Bottom line, Connecticut educator certification regulations have not been updated since 1998. … We’re slowly chipping away at some of these more restrictive requirements. … However, with a staunch commitment to modernizing the educator certification in our state, we took another step over the past months that has brought us closer — closer than we’ve ever been — to making long term sustainable change,” Russell-Tucker said. “I think we all have come to the agreement that there are changes that are necessary, and we’re moving forward.”

The legislation includes changes to the three-tiered system of certification, where it would essentially eliminate a tier.

Currently, teachers must obtain their initial certification, which is valid for three years, then obtain a provisional certificate that’s valid for eight years.

Teachers can apply for their professional certificate after the provisional certificate and after “30 school months of successful appropriate experience in a Connecticut public or approved nonpublic school under the provisional educator certificate” and additional course requirements, according to the state Department of Education.

The proposed legislation would now allow a teacher to qualify for professional status if they hold an initial or provisional certificate and have completed at least 50 school months of teaching, completed a teacher education and mentoring program and either hold a master’s degree in the subject or completed an alternative pathway approved by the state.

Other changes would allow elementary school teachers to teach more than first through sixth grade. HB 5436 proposes expanding the certification to also include pre-K and kindergarten. Educators with qualifications for seventh through 12th grade could also teach students as young as fourth grade, under language in the bill.

“With this bill passed by the Education Committee, we are well on our way to implementing additional pathways and flexibility to help these educators begin to put an end to the teaching shortage Connecticut has been suffering for years,” said Daniel Pearson, executive director of Educators for Excellence-Connecticut, a nonprofit policy organization.

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