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News Release - Statewide survey shows districts struggle with critical workforce shortages

Dec. 3, 2020

Statewide survey shows districts struggle with critical workforce shortages

Top priorities are K-3 reading loss, mental health of students and teachers 

DENVER - Critical staff shortages -- from bus drivers and janitors to special education and classroom teachers -- are presenting significant challenges for school districts as they struggle to maintain operations for both in-person and remote learning during the pandemic. 

The vast majority of districts responding to the survey of needs conducted in October by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative said they do not have enough substitute teachers and bus drivers. Shortages in special education teachers, classroom teachers and janitorial staff are also impacting many areas of the state. 

The survey was the second such inventory of districts’ needs conducted by CDE and CEI to gain a better understanding of the current challenges facing schools and districts as they work to sustain and enhance support for students, staff, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first survey was conducted in the spring, revealing an immediate need for hardware, software and connectivity solutions.

“Our teachers and districts have worked miracles to provide safe, quality learning environments for our students who are learning both remotely and in-person, especially when you consider the staffing shortages so many of them are up against,” said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “We were able to use the information from the spring survey to focus our efforts and resources to support districts' needs for increased internet access, and I’m hopeful this inventory can help us target additional resources to support our teachers, students and districts through the long haul of this pandemic.” 

Districts also listed reading loss among kindergarten through third-grade students as well as the ongoing stress on both students and teachers as top concerns. Staff burnout that could cause teachers to take leaves of absences or resign is a concern for many districts, and many noted the need for increased resources to support mental health of staff, administrators and students.

“This survey follows up on the survey of emergency needs we conducted last spring and goes deeper into the long tail of recovery, showing serious needs across the state. The three areas of deep concern are K-3 learning loss, burnout and mental health with students and educators and the potential for disengagement in our high school students.  These are all critical challenges we need to address statewide to give all students the education they deserve,” said Rebecca Holmes, President & CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative.    

In the first survey, conducted last spring, districts said they needed more help developing effective online instruction and providing students computer hardware and access to the Internet. The results of the first survey informed several key decisions around funding, policy changes and resources for districts, including additional funding for internet access. Device and connectivity needs have declined quite a bit among district respondents with verified data. The spring inventory revealed that approximately 53,000 students needed wifi-enabled devices and 65,860 students needed internet access at home. The total number of students lacking access is now approximately 30,000 in both categories. 

The fall needs inventory was completed by nearly 75% of districts and BOCES representing 90% of the state’s public schools students. Districts were asked to select their top three priorities related to students from a list of 10 options. The most frequently selected priorities were K-3 reading loss, high school students’ mental health and middle school students’ mental health.

Among a list of teacher-related priorities, districts said supporting teachers’ mental health, professional development and physical health were their top three priorities.

More information about the Fall Needs Inventory is available on the CDE Website