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In Recent Months, A Serious Shortage Of Teachers In Numerous Educational Fields Has Been Reported In The Rochester-Finger Lakes Region; Over The Last Decade, NY State Has Lost 21,000 Teachers

To Address The Escalating Teacher Shortage, Schumer Launches Two-Pronged Approach: To Maintain Critical Federal Funding For Teacher Recruitment, And To Forgive Crippling Student Debt For Prospective Educators

Schumer: Rochester-Finger Lakes Teacher Shortage Must Be Expelled

Standing at the Brighton Central School District in Monroe County, flanked by teachers, advocates and experts, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today sounded the alarm on a shortage of teachers that is only getting worse, and could impede education in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region.

Schumer explained that in recent years he has heard from many local school board members and principals about the difficulties they are having in recruiting high-quality teachers. Some Monroe County districts have reported having advertised for over five months to fill teaching positions in subjects like Earth Science without receiving any applicants. Other districts have resorted to hiring long-term substitutes to fill positions in subjects like FACS (Family & Consumer Sciences) and French, for which there were no certified applicants.  Additionally, recent reports indicate that currently, New York State has roughly 21,000 fewer teachers and administrators than it did just nine years ago, with Rochester-area colleges, like St. John Fisher experiencing a 40% drop in students enrolled as education majors over the past decade.

To boost the number of qualified teachers in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region and across the state, Schumer initiated a two-pronged plan. First, Schumer called on Congress to reject the administration’s proposed elimination of the Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State grant program in the Fiscal Year 2020 federal budget, which provides funding for school districts to use for teacher recruitment and retention. Second, he urged Congress to expediently consider and pass the What You Can Do For Your Country Act, which would fortify the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), incentivizing young professionals and college graduates to enter the teaching profession by forgiving their student loan debt in return for serving as a public school teacher.

“Access to a quality, public education is one of the bedrocks of our American society, and right now, that access is under threat in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region because of a teacher shortage. To keep up with escalating demand and increasing retirements, New York schools need to be hiring thousands of new teachers per year, and instead, the opposite is happening. For the sake of our children and their future, it’s time to reverse this trend,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why—here at the Brighton Central School District—I’m proud to launch a multifaceted plan to end this teacher shortage. One, by rejecting the elimination of a fundamental federal grant program that aids the recruitment, retention, and professional development of teachers and, two, by incentivizing college graduates to enter the profession by forgiving their student loans. With the education of countless Rochester-Finger Lakes and Upstate students at stake, this teacher shortage must be expelled, before any more mischief is caused.”

“Teachers serve an important role in our communities, helping to shape the education and the lives of our children. Unfortunately, school districts across New York are facing teacher shortages, and we must do more to address this problem,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “One way Congress can help is by passing my bill to overhaul the flawed Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. For years, the Department of Education has failed to properly implement this program intended to provide teachers with the loan forgiveness they earn through their hard work. Fixing this program could help encourage more people to become teachers without the fear that they’ll be drowning in student loan debt for decades. I’m grateful that Senator Schumer has cosponsored this important bill, and I will continue to fight to support our teachers and students.”

Sherry Johnson, Executive Director of the Monroe County School Board Association said, “The ongoing teacher shortage is leaving schools across the state and nation with little ability to fill open positions, and Monroe County is no exception.  Monroe County districts are now encountering a significant drop off in candidates to fill teaching positions.  The number of teaching subjects impacted has increased over the past few years to now include classroom subjects like math, earth science, technology, chemistry, physics, foreign language, family & consumer science, CTE-Career & Technology education, and many similar secondary education classroom positions.  While there aren’t yet as widespread vacancies in elementary education positions, elementary applicants are also down.  That is why we appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts to reverse this teacher shortage.”

To illustrate the worsening of the teacher shortage in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region and across the state, Schumer pointed to an October 2018 report from New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). The report estimates that over the next decade, New York State schools will have to hire 10,000-18,000 new teachers per year to keep up with the rising demand. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that United States schools would need to hire 1.6 million new teachers over the next decade to match demand. At the same time, the number of college students entering the teaching profession has plummeted with Rochester area colleges like St. John Fisher experiencing a roughly 40% drop in education graduates over the past decade. The 2018 NYSUT report also reveals that statewide, since 2009-2010, enrollment in teacher education programs in New York State has decreased by roughly 47%, from over 79,000 students in 2009-10 to just over 41,000 students in 2015-16.

The report also cites a statistic from the 2017 New York State Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Comprehensive Annual Financial Report showing that at the time, over 50,000 TRS members were over the age of 55, with another 35,000 members being between the ages of 50-54. In total, the report estimates that over the coming five years, roughly one third of the TRS workforce will be at the age of retirement. Schumer argued that these statistics and estimates demonstrate a clear and present need to recruit new teachers and incentivize people to enter the field, before it’s too late.

Furthermore, the NYSUT report lists what the Department of Education acknowledged in 2016-17 as recognized teacher shortage issue areas in New York State, specifically referencing: Bilingual Education; Special Education, All Grades; English as a Second Language; Early Childhood; Visual Arts; Dance; Reading/Literacy; Social Studies; Career and Technical Education; Special Education, Bilingual; English Language Arts; Elementary Education; Music; Mathematics; Sciences; and Theater. Schumer explained that Monroe County educational professionals have highlighted Earth Science, Math and FACS as particularly difficult areas to hire teachers in.

With tens of thousands of teachers retiring and with a dearth of new teachers entering the field, today Schumer launched a multi-faceted plan to double down and reverse the growing teacher shortage. Schumer urged his colleagues in Congress to reject the administration’s proposed elimination of the Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program. The absolutely essential Title II program provides funding to schools in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region and across the country to assist with the recruitment, retention and professional development of educators. Even though the Title II program received $2.09 billion last year, with $147 million being sent to schools in New York, the administration’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 proposed the complete elimination of the program.

Schumer called the proposed elimination of the Title II program particularly alarming considering the difficulties that Rochester-Finger Lakes and New York State schools already have in retaining teachers. According to statistics from Teach NY, a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) system and the New York State Department of Education, roughly 40% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years. Schumer explained that the best way to tackle this trend would be by increasing funding for the Title II program, which would then boost funding for Rochester-Finger Lakes schools to professionally develop teachers, helping them to feel more comfortable at and equipped to handle their jobs.

Second, Schumer called on Congress to expediently consider and pass the What You Can Do For Your Country Act of 2019, which was introduced in the Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). Schumer has cosponsored the legislation. In 2007, Congress passed legislation establishing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), in an effort to incentivize young professionals and college graduates to enter the various fields of public service. The program was designed to help young people follow their passion for public service, including for teaching, without leaving them with crippling student loans. However, according to the Department of Education, as of this March, only 1% of PSLF applicants had seen their loans forgiven. Schumer argued that this low rate of loan forgiveness could be preventing people from entering the field of teaching and exacerbating the problematic teacher shortage.

To address these shortcomings of the PSLF and close the program’s loopholes, Schumer pushed the passage of the What You Can Do For Your Country Act of 2019. The legislation would:

  • Allow for people who took out Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) to qualify for forgiveness under the PSLF.
  • Allow for people on “extended” or “graduated” loan repayment plans to qualify for forgiveness under the PSLF.
  • Require the Department of Education to more explicitly notify PSLF applicants of whether they qualify for loan forgiveness.
  • Authorize partial loan forgiveness for beneficiaries of the PSLF. Currently, the PSLF forgives loans of public servants who have spent 10 years in their respective field. The legislation would allow for beneficiaries of the PSLF to receive partial forgiveness after 5 years of loan repayment.
  • Require the Department of Education digitize and streamline the PSLF application process.

Schumer was joined by Dr. Kevin McGowan, Brighton Central School District Superintendent of Schools, Sherry Johnson, Executive Director Monroe County School Board AssociationJolene DiBrango, NYSUT (NYS United Teachers) Executive Vice President, Dr. Mike Wischnowski, Dean of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. School of Education at St. John Fisher College, and local teachers.