Solving teacher shortage problem

Students in Mountain State public schools deserve the best teachers taxpayers can afford. Many probably are not getting them.

Nearly 600 teaching positions in public schools are held by educators not fully certified for their specialties, state school Superintendent Michael Martirano reported this month. Of that number, 231 are special education teachers.

There are various reasons for the shortage. One is pay, of course. West Virginians cannot afford to compete with pay rates offered educators in most other states.

Though some leaders in the Legislature would love to increase educators’ salaries, the state’s budget crisis makes that impossible this year.

At some point as soon as possible, however, lawmakers need to revisit the issue – especially for teachers in particularly challenging, in-demand fields such as special education.

In the meantime, higher education may be able to help. Working with the Legislature, officials at public teachers’ colleges should devise a plan to attract more students into certification programs for fields such as special education. Perhaps incentives such as tax and/or tuition breaks could be offered. Or, out-of-state students coming to teachers’ colleges here could be offered scholarship help normally reserved for West Virginians.

That could convert a challenge into an opportunity for both higher education and potential college students.

West Virginia’s system of public education is broken. Repairing it will require more good, fully prepared teachers. Using innovative tactics to make that happen should be a top priority.