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In Rural Washington, Districts in Teacher Shortage 'Crisis Mode'

Halfway through the school year, districts in rural Washington state are struggling to find teachers and substitutes to fill positions that are still or newly vacant, according to a story by the Yakima Herald.

The shortage is made more challenging by a state law that limits the number of hours a retired teacher can work as a substitute before forfeiting retirement benefits. For districts that rely on retired teachers as long-term substitutes, that means that many positions become vacant again halfway through the year.

For some rural schools in the state, principals and administrators report filling in as substitutes or for other staff positions. A recent survey by Washington state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction found that 74 percent of principals surveyed have covered classes in the midst of the shortage. Among rural schools, 46 percent of principals said they still have vacant teaching positions this year.

About 60 percent of school districts in Washington state are small and rural and those districts serve about 10 percent of the state's students. Washington state has one of the highest percentages of rural English-language learners and nearly 30 percent of rural students are a minority, according to the Rural School and Community Trust.

 Nationwide, the shortage of teachers and substitute teachers has been a common topic in recent days. The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York state recently reported that there are fewer substitute teachers partly due to a competitive job market. The shortage is also worsened by the Affordable Care Act, according to the Journal. "Many districts, already strapped for cash, have cut back on the time they hire individual substitutes to keep an individual's work week under 30 hours." In Mississippi, the state has hired more than 450 foreign teachers to fill vacant positions according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. More than 50 percent of districts in the state are rural, and the state has seen a drop in teachers graduating from teacher preparation programs in recent years.

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