Hochul concerned about teacher shortages

On Board Online • January 10, 2022

By Chris Carola
Special Correspondent

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to re-energize New York's coronavirus-staggered public education system by directing billions more in state funds to schools, boosting the ranks of teachers and support staff, and bolstering mental healthcare services for students rattled by pandemic-induced stress.

In her first State of the State address to the Legislature since becoming governor following Andrew Cuomo's resignation last August, Hochul devoted much of Wednesday's speech to health care issues raised by COVID-19 and its omicron variant, which delayed some school re-openings after the winter break and prompted others to return to remote learning.

While her address focused largely on the state's continuing response to a health crisis that has killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers and sickened many more, Hochul praised efforts by schools and parents to keep things as normal as possible for children.

"I am so grateful to the county leaders, school superintendents, administrators, parents and teachers for working so closely with us to get kids back to school this week," Hochul said to a limited and socially distanced group of lawmakers, guests and journalists in the Assembly Chamber.

Hochul noted teacher shortages existed even before the virus hit the United States in early 2020. Teacher retirements have been accelerating during the pandemic, and the state will need to hire 180,000 new teachers over the next decade to meet workforce needs, she said.

"The role of a teacher is irreplaceable in a child's life, and as the past two years have hammered home, they are irreplaceable in a parent's life, too," Hochul said. "As a mother, I know this firsthand. This workforce is also stressed and overworked. So, we will ramp up efforts to recruit and retain teachers with more effective training and support, faster and easier certification, and stronger career pipelines and ladders."

Other education plans in her State of the State message included:

  • Phasing in full funding of foundation aid to school districts by the 2023-24 school year, providing additional billions of dollars, as was announced in October.
  • Recruiting more teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists and bus drivers.
  • Temporarily waiving the $35,000 income limit for retired teachers, school nurses and social workers, to encourage them to return to the public education workforce.
  • Streamlining the state's teacher certification process by adding staff to the State Education Department's certification office and allowing provisional school professionals to teach while SED approval is pending.
  • Providing funding for paraprofessionals to gain skills and the required credentials to become teachers.
  • Providing additional mental health grants for districts to address student trauma, expand extended learning programs and hire mental health professionals.
  • Expanding access to college-level high school courses by encouraging creation of concurrent enrollment programs.

Hochul's proposals for the coming year also include a $1 billion property tax cut for more than 2 million families and expansion of her Clean Green School environmental sustainability program from 500 to 600 schools in disadvantaged communities to more than 1,000 schools across the state. The $59 million initiative launched last year aims to upgrade school infrastructure and provide healthier surroundings for students and staff.

Specifics of Hochul's spending plan for elementary and secondary public education in the next fiscal year will be released later this month when she presents her 2022-23 state budget proposal to the Legislature.

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