Staffing shortages in American schools are nothing new. However, since the onset of the COVID Pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation, the problem has gotten significantly worse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 600,000 teachers, or about 6% of teachers nationwide, quit their jobs between 2020 and 2022. The problem doesn’t show signs of improving. A survey done in 2022 revealed that 55% of teachers wanted to leave the profession, and 90% felt burned out.
Many teachers cite low pay and heavy workloads as reasons for leaving. Adjusting for inflation, the average teacher salary has remained virtually unchanged since 1970, with teachers today actually earning about $2,000-$3,000 less than they did 40 years ago. Today, the average starting salary is about $43,000. Comparing that to the average price of a Master’s degree in Education, $52,000, fewer college graduates view teaching as a viable profession. The number of college freshmen intending to major in education has dropped by more than half since 2000.
When teachers leave, the teachers that stay are required to fill in. This has led to teachers feeling overworked, which leads them to quit, which leaves remaining teachers feeling overworked, and so on. This year, 40 states and Washington, D.C. reported ongoing teacher shortages. Arizona is no exception. In 2022, 26% of positions went unfilled, and 41% of positions were filled by teachers that did not meet the state’s standard certification criteria.
Teacher shortages are especially damaging to special education programs. Almost every state has a shortage of special education teachers. This year, 45% of schools nationwide have reported vacancies in special education, and 76% have reported difficulties in hiring. In Arizona, 19% of special education positions went unfilled in 2022.
Special education positions have always been harder to fill because of the additional expertise needed to work with children with a variety of disabilities. However, a nationwide teacher shortage has exacerbated the issue. Like general education teachers, special education teachers have found themselves dealing with larger class sizes, increased workloads, and stagnating salaries. The stress has left many feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, and the low pay makes it hard to hire for such an intensive job. As a result, your child may not be getting the services they require.
What is your child entitled to?
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). In order for the school to comply with the law, a FAPE must be provided to your child through their IEP. In other words, if your child’s school is not following their IEP, the school is in violation of the law.
What can you do if your child is not getting the services that their IEP entitles them to?
If you find that your child is not receiving the services outlined in their IEP, here are a few things you can do:
- Meet with the Administration – A good first step is to meet with administration and see if you can work things out informally. There may be a simple misunderstanding or communication error, and you can avoid the stress and strain of going through any formal process. However, if you’ve already met with the administration and their position has not changed, you can consider taking more formal steps.
- Submit a State Complaint – If the school is not following your child’s IEP as written, you might consider submitting a state complaint to the Arizona Department of Education. To find out more about how to submit a complaint, visit https://www.azdisabilitylaw.org/special-education-tip-day-filing-state-complaint/
- Ask for a Reevaluation – If the school wants to make changes to your child’s IEP, such as reducing services, and you suspect the reason for the changes is staff shortages rather than a change in your child’s needs, consider requesting a reevaluation. As a parent, you may request a reevaluation at any time to determine if data supports IEP team decisions. If you disagree with the results of the reevaluation, you can consider requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). You can find more information on IEE’s here: https://www.azdisabilitylaw.org/special-education-tip-day-requesting-iee/
- Consult a Lawyer or Education Advocate – Before pursuing any legal action, it is always a good idea to consult a lawyer who specializes in special education matters. You can also consult an education advocate who can help you through the process of retaining your child’s IEP services.
- Request Mediation or a Due Process Hearing – If you and the school are at an impasse, you can utilize your more formal dispute resolution options, such as mediation or a due process hearing. You can learn more about these options here: https://www.azdisabilitylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/SPED-Dispute-Resolution-Options-Video-Links.pdf
- Contact the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) – Per the IDEA, every state has a PTI. PTIs can connect you to education advocates, legal resources, and other community supports. Here’s a link to Arizona’s PTI, Raising Special Kids: https://raisingspecialkids.org/.
It’s important to remember that schools are struggling to meet the needs of all students. However, your child is entitled to an education, and by law they are entitled to any services included in their IEP.
-  Survey: Alarming Number of Educators May Soon Leave the Profession, National Education Association, https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/survey-alarming-number-educators-may-soon-leave-profession (last visited June 27, 2023).
-  Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_211.60.asp (last visited June 27, 2023); The State of Educator pay in America, National Education Association (Apr. 4, 2023), https://www.nea.org/resource-library/educator-pay-and-student-spending-how-does-your-state-rank.
-  The State of Educator Pay in America.
-  Average Cost of a Master’s Degree, Education Data Initiative, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree (last updated Nov. 13, 2022); Arthur Jones II, Why there’s a special education and STEM teacher shortage and what can be done, ABC News (May 11, 2023), https://abcnews.go.com/US/states-facing-special-education-stem-teacher-shortages/story?id=98775708.
-  Survey: Alarming Number of Educators May Soon Leave the Profession.
-  ABC News.
-  Severe teacher shortage in Arizona continues, Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (Sept. 20, 2022), https://docs.google.com/document/d/1drApN4WUzWzDzfu-t_bnckYHdmRKNojY/edit.
-  Rich Barlow, Almost Every State Needs More Special Ed Teachers. How Can They Get Them?, Boston University Today (Aug. 4, 2022), https://www.bu.edu/articles/2022/special-education-teacher-shortage/
-  Meghan Whittaker, High Standards & Innovative Solutions: How Some States are Addressing the Special Educator Shortage Crisis, United States Department of Education, https://sites.ed.gov/osers/2023/05/high-standards-innovative-solutions-how-some-states-are-addressing-the-special-educator-shortage-crisis/ (last visited June 27, 2023).
-  Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.