By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) — Legislation that could help alleviate a critical teacher shortage in Louisiana by allowing retirees to return to work without losing benefits passed the Senate.
Senators approved Senate Bill 434, sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, with a vote of 33-0 to allow certified teachers who retired before July 1, 2020 to be rehired without losing state retirement benefits.
“When I entered Southern University, the largest department at the college was the department of education,” Fields said. “Today, the smallest department is the department of education.
“In fact, the last graduation there was only three students that graduated in the department of education,” he said.
SB 434, which was passed by the Senate on Wednesday, requires a 12-month waiting period for retired teachers to return. Local school districts must identify a critical shortage in math, science, English, language arts, or special education and the bill allows schools to use maternity, military, sabbatical and extended sick leave to justify the need.
Fields noted SB 434 “is supported by all of the educational groups.”
SB 434 is meant to be a temporary fix to the teacher shortage facing K-12 schools across the state before a sunset provision in 2025. An amendment added to the bill in committee would require school employers to advertise vacancies to area teacher training programs before filling a position with a retiree.
“I want to make sure those individuals who are in college, who are getting an education, that they’re getting an opportunity to fill these positions,” Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, sponsor of the amendment, said in committee. “I don’t want them to be overlooked.”
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said in a webinar hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council last week that about 50,000 students are impacted by the current teacher shortage, mostly because there’s not enough certified and qualified teachers to fill open positions.
“We believe we have about 2,520 certificated vacancies throughout the state of Louisiana,” Brumley said. “If you do the simple math, and say each one of those positions would impact 20 kids just at a minimum, you’re looking at about 50,000 kids that are impacted every single day.”
Peacock also successfully amended SB 434 on the Senate floor to include the same flexibility for rehiring retirees to fill adjunct professor positions in higher education nursing programs, if the retirees have been retired for at least a year, did not retire based on disability, have at least 30 years of creditable service in the retirement system, and are at least 62 years old.
“This will allow us to bring back those retirees who dedicated their careers to the state of Louisiana … to come back and help for nursing only,” Peacock said.
Like teacher retirees, the change would require higher education institutions to advertise the open positions in an attempt to court new instructors before rehiring retirees. The nursing provision would include a sunset in 2027.
“This is something I think we need to address on the front end, that’s why there’s a sunset,” Peacock said, adding a long-term solution to the shortages should be a priority. “But … I do have to acknowledge what higher education has (highlighted), they need qualified people who can teach our nurses.
“We need nurses, that’s not only for education but for healthcare, too.”