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Not Enough Teachers To Go Around In Colorado

By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) - With Colorado's population boom has come an educator collapse. There are more students in classrooms across the state, but not enough teachers.

"We're just not getting the bump in the number of folks who are interested in becoming educators," Dr. Robert Mitchell, Director of Educator Preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said. "There are areas with severe shortage."

classroom school generic
(credit: CBS)

Since 2010, there has been a nearly 25 percent drop in graduates from teacher preparation programs, according to the CDHE. Enrollment is also declining in those programs, about 23 percent over the last six years.

"You compound that with the fact that we're looking at about a third of all our teachers are either at retirement age or will be within the next two to three years, together we have a serious educator shortage across the state," Mitchell told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann.

Mitchell said rural districts, especially those in southeastern parts of Colorado, are having a particularly tough time. They are struggling with not only recruiting teachers but keeping them as well.

"We're seeing schools go multiple years without a math teacher," he said. "We're seeing an elementary school position that was posted this summer have zero applicants."

That reality is a warning bell to other school districts in Colorado, Mitchell said.

Robert Mitchell
Dr. Robert Mitchell (credit: CBS)

"We talk to our districts in the I-25 corridor, like Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County and Douglas County," Mitchell explained, "and they're not seeing nearly the number of people who are applying for positions they're posting."

The severe shortage is why the CDHE is partnering with the Colorado Department of Education and hosting town hall meetings across the state. Throughout the summer, state leaders will visit all corners of Colorado to have conversations with teachers, parents, students and all others concerned to develop an action plan.

Following three town hall meetings in Ridgway, Parachute and Fort Collins, Mitchell said an important issue raised by many teachers is compensation.

"Our lowest paying district in the state pays about $25,000 a year for a full-time teacher. You just can't live in Colorado on that," he said.

Other concerns include perception -- teachers are more than just employees, they're professional educators -- and retention.

"It's not just a job, it's a career," Mitchell said. "It is a profession that is the basis for all other professions. Focusing on retention is a huge need. We want to make sure people want to work in the buildings where they're at."

The meetings come to the Denver metro area this week with one scheduled for Monday evening at the Cherry Creek School District building Centennial and the other in Denver on Tuesday at the Mile High United Way CoBank Leadership Center. Those who cannot attend those meetings or the six others planned in August, the CDHE asks they take an online survey to submit their suggestions.

"I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we won't have qualified teachers in the classroom, but we need to make sure we have the best possible folks there teaching our kids," Mitchell said.

The CDHE & CDE expect to finish their action plan by Dec. 1 and present it to state lawmakers.

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 This Morning over the weekend and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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