Today, seven years removed from the start of the Great Recession, we now see how deeply this financial crisis impacted our education system. School districts in Ventura County and across California made drastic cuts in their operating budgets by as much as 20-30 percent. Because we are, after all, a service industry, many of these cuts directly impacted classroom staffing and services to our students. With our economy on the rebound, and thanks to voter support of Proposition 30, our student funding is returning to pre-2008 levels. Our local school districts are restoring staffing and working to fill hundreds of positions that were cut between 2008 and 2012. Overall, California has lost more than 32,000 teachers ? nearly 8 percent of our workforce. The California Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that these reductions resulted from a roughly equal combination of both layoffs and retirements. Many experienced teachers delayed retirement because of worry about the economic downturn but are now planning to stop working within the next few years. This creates added pressure to find and hire new teachers. Here's where a good problem ? employment opportunities for teachers ? becomes a crisis. The latest figures from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing show a dramatic decline in teacher preparation programs, with enrollment plunging by more than 50 percent during the recession. If one looks back at these stats from 2001 to the present, the decrease is an even more alarming 74 percent. To counteract this impending shortage, California must hire approximately 14,000 new teachers each year. How will California and the rest of our country attract its best and brightest into what is arguably the most important work there is? We successfully tackled a shortage of this type in the late 1960s and early 1970s and can do so once again. Our country actively recruited teachers under President Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives, providing new public school teachers with an extra benefit for their service: a portion of their college debt was forgiven. For teachers employed in underserved communities or providing specialized content such as science and math, an even higher percentage of their debt was retired. Similar programs are still available at the federal level and we urge college students to use them. Incentives like these should also be expanded at the state level. For example, tuition fees at state colleges and universities could be waived for a teacher's fifth year of educational preparation, contingent upon successful completion of the program and securing employment in a school. This is just one of many models needed to help us rebuild capacity as the future unfolds. Here in Ventura County we have high quality schools staffed with caring and dedicated teachers who guide our students to success. Maintaining this level of excellence is critical to the quality of our schools, the quality of our graduates and the future of our state. This is clearly an issue of great urgency, and our remedies must begin with public recognition of teaching as our noblest of professions and its practitioners as purveyors of our democratic society. A firm commitment from governmental entities at all levels is also essential. The choice is simple ? do we wish to see larger class sizes staffed in many cases with long-term substitutes, or do we encourage, prepare, mentor, reward and retain our current and next generation of educators? Learn more about credentialing programs offered by the Ventura County Office of Education at www.vcoe.org/tss. Stan Mantooth is Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
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