Across the country, schools and families are grappling with critical shortages of qualified teachers. Scott Thuman takes us to Arizona where they’re trying out a solution with a little creativity.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Summer would usually leave the grounds of Del Rio Elementary in Chino Valley, Arizona as quiet as the school library.
But this year, the sound of construction breaks that silence. Not for new classrooms, but for 10 tiny homes tucked right behind the soccer field.
John Scholl: Right now, we're standing on the footprint of what will eventually be our teacherage. If you're familiar with the term "parsonage," which is housing for a reverend or pastor, it's the same thing. A teacherage is just housing for teachers.
John Scholl is the school superintendent here, and this project is his response to a crisis hitting districts across the country — a shortage of certified teachers, from math to science, and especially special education.
Scholl: Twenty percent of our kids are identified as Special Ed. Trying to serve those kids on what their needs require can be difficult when we don't have the staff to do that.
Scholl believes these homes could be the recruitment tool he needs to bring teachers to this rural town, where housing costs are almost 50% above the national average.
Scholl: When we hire teachers, when we can hire teachers, one of the things that we hear is that it's unaffordable for teachers to live in Chino Valley. The average home price in Chino Valley is about $450,000.
Scott: Does this bring them in?
Scholl: We hope so. We've had one candidate that applied just because they knew that we had this.
And so far, giving the idea, an A-plus.
Amanda Schumacher: I want to say there’s between 50 and 60 teachers here.
Amanda Schumacher teaches third grade at the school and is on a waiting list to call one of the tiny homes her home.
Amanda Schumacher: I live with my parents, and I've lived with my parents my whole life. I would love to be on my own. And the fact that I can't really afford to move out just on my own — I think that just helps so much.
Scott: Is it that needed? Is it that hard to afford a house?
Schumacher: It is that hard to afford a house. I mean if you're not making six figures or over here, it's hard. It's very hard.
Chino Valley is one of at least eight school districts in Arizona with plans to build so-called "workforce" housing. The project is being paid for with federal tax dollars from Covid relief funds and a state grant.
At least three other states in the country have similar programs, and others are considering it.
Whether or not this plan is ultimately a success may not be clear for a while, but it does speak to that much larger problem: a critical teacher shortage all across the country.
Some 300,000 teachers leave the profession every year. And there are fewer college graduates with education degrees to fill those ranks. And low pay, the biggest reason. The average starting salary for a teacher in the U.S. is just below $43,000 a year.
Marisol Garcia: There's always an excuse as to why we can't pay educators more money.
Marisol Garcia is president of the state’s largest teachers' union.
Garcia: I think the biggest challenge is the fact that a lot of our educators going into the profession is pay, right? That you're first-generation college graduate, you want to be able to afford your own apartment or home.
Scott: Is it realistic to think it's going to get better?
Garcia: It's not going to get better without a massive disruption in the conversation about funding education and making sure that educators feel respected. This didn't happen overnight. I see it more as a repercussion of neglecting of investment in public schools and public good.
In the meantime, she worries these tiny homes could lead to big problems.
Garcia: I understand the impulse to want to be creative, to fix two solutions. But I also have concerns that this puts educators in a really unique situation where your landlord is also your boss. If I get in trouble, or if something happens or I'm accused of something, then I could lose, not only my job, but also the place where I live.
But it’s a decision Schumacher is willing to embrace.
Scott: It would be quite the improvement for your commute.
Schumacher: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I could walk to work. That'd be great.
These 400-square-foot homes will be available in the fall and rent for about $500 per month, roughly half of the market rate in Chino Valley, and meant to be transitional housing, giving a new teacher a year or two to find something permanent.
Schumacher: Younger teachers like me that are just getting established, we all agree that it's an amazing opportunity. It's just a way to get you started out there and just off on the right foot versus struggling and worrying. We're all very impressed by what's going on.
If enough prospective teachers give it a passing grade and sign on for jobs, the district stands ready to build more, redefining what it means to be a schoolhouse.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman in Arizona.
Watch story here.
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