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Teacher shortage across Kentucky has Bowling Green educators on guard

Bart Everson

In Kentucky, 1,500 teaching vacancies have been reported by the state’s Education Commissioner, Jason Glass. It’s an issue that has plagued Kentucky for years and has lawmakers discussing what can be done to reverse the trend.

The Bowling Green Independent School District currently has seven openings for the district’s 350 teaching positions and Warren County Public Schools have 27 vacancies for the district's nearly 900 positions.

While the vacancies in Warren County might not be glaring, Bowling Green Schools Superintendent Gary Fields says he’s still concerned.

“I think my biggest fear is who are going to be the next great young teacher, young administrators, people who want to be principals who want to be instructional coaches who want to be future superintendents even,” Fields said.

In Daviess County, there are currently eight vacancies for the district's public school system, but the district has struggled to fill teaching positions and has issued emergency teaching certifications twice over the past year to keep educators in classrooms.

According to a report from The News-Enterprise, Teresa Morgan, Superintendent of Hardin County Schools, said as teaching resignations have increased the school system has relied on emergency certifications and retired educators to alleviate staffing problems.

Across Kentucky, the teacher turnover rate has risen consistently over the last five years, reaching more than 20 percent last school year, which is higher than the national average.

Superintendent Fields says due to low wages, and stress from the job teacher turnover has reached a new high.

“We’ve had more staff members retire and just resign and leave the profession during this school year,” Fields said. “More than I can remember in the last fifteen years combined.”

To compound the problem, fewer young people are choosing to go into education. According to a report from the Lexington Herald-Leader, there has been a multi-year decline in enrollment across teacher education programs at Kentucky colleges and universities. And since 2015, Kentucky has experienced an increase in the number of emergency teaching certifications issued.

Due to the limited pool of qualified candidates, there is now competition between school districts to fill vacant positions, which creates new problems, according to Superintendent Fields.

“It forces school districts to go out and were trying to recruit each others staff members, which isn’t a comfortable thing,” Fields said. “If we’re able to hire someone from another district, it just causes that district an issue of filling a job. So it still comes back to that pipeline. We have to have a pipeline of future teachers.”

Future educators say they are prepared but wary

Ethan Jenkins is an education major at Western Kentucky University. He’s on track to begin student-teaching next year and said he feels prepared to being his career as an educator but worries about the lack of veterans around him as he enters the field.

“When there’s a huge lack of veteran teachers that’s bad because you don't have a good fallback or good support system,” Jenkins said. “As a new teacher if I needed help with something and there’s not very many other veteran teachers around I’m not going to have much advice or support.”

Jenkins is one of 1,137 students in WKU’s School of Teacher Education and while he said the program has prepared him to handle creating lesson plans and leading students in the classroom he has concerns about how to handle cultural issues outside of the classroom and handling burnout.

“It makes me a little panicked,” Jenkins said. “I feel like if substantial change isn't brought to the system then it's going to result in suboptimal teaching.”

According to Jenkins, the bottom line to attracting new educators and retaining current teachers start with increasing educators’ salary. Kentucky ranks 44th nationwide in starting pay for teachers.

For teachers in Bowling Green, Superintendent Fields said the starting pay is competitive compared to other districts across the state but more needs to be done statewide for educators.

“We have to change the compensation for educators in the state of Kentucky,” Fields said. “The way teachers are paid today, they’re not part of the middle class.”

Governor Andy Beshear has asked state lawmakers to implement a five percent salary increase for all public school staff. That request does not appear to be gaining much traction in the General Assembly.

Jacob Martin is a Reporter at WKU Public Radio. He joined the newsroom from Kansas City, where he covered the city’s underserved communities and general assignments at NPR member station, KCUR. A Louisville native, he spent seven years living in Brooklyn, New York before moving back to Kentucky. Email him at