CEA President Kate Dias at the state Capitol. Credit: Courtesy of CEA

Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias is concerned the urgency of tangible action regarding a teacher shortage is beginning to fade as the legislative session winds down. 

She said in terms of vacancies they’re nearing 1,700 and it’s creeping into every single district. 

“Everybody is going to be impacted by this,” Dias said before the start of the Memorial Day holiday.

She said now is the time when teachers are deciding whether they will return to the profession or take their masters degree and make more money in another industry. 

Legislation that would have set a minimum salary cap for starting teacher pay never made it through the Appropriations Committee. 

However, Rep. Jeff Currey, co-chair of the Education Committee, said there is still legislation that changes the requirements for teachers in the classroom, raises the kindergarten age to five, and embraces play-based learning. 

He said he wouldn’t call the current teacher shortage a “crisis.” He said even though some of the financial pieces they were looking for didn’t make it through the committee process there’s still $150 million in the second year of the budget for education and some of that money will be directed at professional staff. 

“I’m really concerned we’re not seeing the shortage decrease,” Dias said. She said school closures due to low staffing levels are becoming more common. 

She said whatever the legislature does “needs to be visible and significant that this investment is going to be made in the profession – directed into the classroom and service providers, highly qualified and highly skilled educators and we are competitive with other industries so we aren’t losing people.”

Currey said he thinks the progress they are making will be felt. 

He said they have waived the $300 application fee for the teaching license exam. Typically, that fee would need to be paid and repaid if a teacher didn’t pass the test the first time. 

While grateful at the policy changes, Dias said she wants to see something more. 

She said Connecticut’s average starting teacher pay is around $48,000 a year. She said she would like that to be closer to $60,000 a year. 

“We need to be making sure teachers are moving along on salaries at a rapid rate to maintain their edge,” Dias said.  “We’re going to lose our teachers. The number one highest paid school teachers in the country are in New York.” 

She said it’s not far from Connecticut and they could woo the highly qualified teachers across the border. 

And Maryland just set a starting salary at $60,000 a year. 

She said teachers have highly desirable skills and “if we are not working to bring people in other companies other industries are going to pick people off.”

The Connecticut Education Association will be holding a press conference at 11:45 a.m. today on the south lawn of the state Capitol to draw more attention to their cause as budget negotiations wrap up this week.