In a bid to curtail Virginia's teacher shortage, Gov. Terry McAuliffe took emergency action Monday to get aspiring instructors into classrooms faster by streamlining education requirements.
McAuliffe ordered the Virginia Board of Education to implement an emergency regulation that would allow the state's public colleges and universities to start offering undergraduate students a major in education by March 1.
"The teacher shortage is a growing crisis that we have to stop and reverse if we are serious about the commonwealth's economic future," McAuliffe said in an emailed statement. "High quality teachers are the key to unlocking the potential in our children."
Most public colleges and universities in Virginia require that teaching candidates first complete a bachelor's degree in a subject area such as math, science or social studies, said Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association, one of the state's confederation of educators. Then, aspiring educators must enter a teacher preparation program, which often requires a fifth year of school, Livingston said.
Livingston said McAuliffe's order would reduce the cost of pursuing a career in education. Some students, he said, opt not to enter teaching programs because of the cost.
"We think this is a bold move on the part of the governor. We anticipate the State Board of Education will take the charge seriously," Livingston said. "This is not going to solve the problem. This is the first step."
Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, said the change would streamline a process that can require two degrees and five or more years into requirements that take just four years.
That change will mean student-teachers will get more exposure to the classroom sooner, he said.
That experience, Pianta said, is "essential to their success."
"Allowing teacher preparation programs to develop four-year models, in my view, has the potential to create stronger preparation and more effective teachers in a shorter time frame than the current master's focused approach," Pianta wrote in an email.
State Board of Education regulations do not currently permit undergraduate majors in teaching, said Heather Fluit, McAuliffe's deputy communications director. The Board of Education will eventually have to replace the emergency regulations with long-term policies, she said.
Teacher shortages have afflicted much of the nation. A 2016 report by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute found that teacher education enrollment dropped from 691,000 to 451,000 nationally, a 35 percent reduction, between 2009 and 2014.
In Virginia, teacher vacancies increased by 40 percent in the last decade, according to McAuliffe's executive directive. In 2016, more than 1,000 teaching positions remained unfilled two months into the academic year, according to Virginia Department of Education data.
Last year, McAuliffe took the extraordinary step of sending letters to more than 500 retired teachers around the city of Petersburg, asking them to consider returning to work in the city's schools. A state law passed in 2001 permits retired teachers to return to areas of need and still draw their pensions while being paid.
Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Weyers Cave), chairman of the state's House Education Committee, issued a statement saying the teacher shortage has affected rural and urban areas.
"Virginia's teaching shortage is one of the most pressing challenges we face in public education," he said, adding that he's confident legislation in the 2018 General Assembly session will work to address the issue.
In addition to his executive directive, McAuliffe announced funding initiatives on Monday intended to further alleviate teacher shortages.
A proposed budget scheduled to be unveiled next week is expected to set aside $1.1 million to automate the teacher licensure process, according to a news release. And $1 million would go toward recruiting and retaining principals in school districts with significant needs.
The proposed budget would also set aside money to offer incentives for teachers who are in struggling school districts.