BOISE - Idaho teachers are leaving the profession in bigger numbers, with more than 1,800 making their exit last year, but at the same time, more individuals are getting certified to become educators, the state Department of Education said Friday.
The agency's data also shows an increase in the number of individuals seeking an alternative, quicker route to certification in Idaho instead of attending a traditional four-year education program offered through a college or university.
More than 957 of the 1,884 teachers who left the profession during the 2011-2012 school year cited "personal reasons." The departures increased significantly from the previous year, when 1,276 teachers left the profession, and the year before, when 716 exited.
Melissa McGrath, Idaho Department of Education spokeswoman, told The Press her department recognizes that some teachers have chosen to leave the profession for various reasons.
"Idaho has always had a high attrition rate among teachers. That has increased since the economic recession and public schools have faced financial difficulty," McGrath said. "Still, we are excited that since Idaho's education reform laws passed and the state has begun to increase funding for public schools again, more individuals are choosing to enter the teaching profession."
In the Coeur d'Alene School District, 32 certified staff members resigned or retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year. School officials say that number is slightly lower than it has been in recent years.
"I am not aware that the reasons were any different than prior years," said Kelly Ostrum, the Coeur d'Alene district's human resources director. "Reasons that we know of included spouse's relocation with a job, raising a family, received job in another school district in or out of Idaho, received job outside of education, and retirement."
While the state's data shows there were about 150 fewer Idaho certified teachers last year compared to the previous year, the department said the number of certificated employees in the state's public school system overall, when including positions such as school counselors and principals, has remained relatively unchanged.
"What I'm finding is that we're losing good young teachers to Washington because we can't compete," said Brad Murray, the assistant superintendent in the Lakeland School District.
The Lakeland district had 26 teachers leave last year, a mix of retirements and resignations for other reasons. About 10 of those teachers left for employment elsewhere, Murray said.
"A number have gone over to Central Valley," Murray said.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said he's unaware of any Post Falls teachers leaving the profession last year, but they too have seen teachers leave to accept employment in other states.
"We are a little concerned about teachers leaving for Washington," Murray said.
There were 17,851 certificated individuals working in Idaho's schools last year, compared to 17,915 the previous year.
The Idaho Education Association requested the data from the department, which then released the numbers to reporters. Last year, the statewide teachers union attributed the increased exits to new education reforms that limited collective bargaining and eliminated job protections.
But public schools chief Tom Luna countered that his education changes, which are subject to voter approval in November, weren't to blame for the jump in departures. He argued that the recession was more likely the culprit for why more teachers were ditching the profession.
Luna's office maintained that argument for the latest data, saying the biggest reported increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession was last year, when the agency said nearly 1,300 teachers exited during the 2010-2011 school year. That was up 600 from the previous year.
The latest data shows an increase of 560 leaving the profession during the 2011-2012 academic year.
"It's clear that when you look at the data over the course of the past few years, this has more to do with economic recession than with education reforms," McGrath said.
With more teachers leaving, Luna's department highlighted the increase in the number of teaching certificates being issued. The department's data shows the state issued 1,433 teaching certificates last year, compared to 1,138 in the previous year.
The increase comes as more seek an alternative route to certification offered by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, according to the data. The ABCTE allows individuals who have a bachelor's degree in a different field, and likely worked in another area, to obtain their teaching certification through an accelerated program.
These individuals work in a public school with provisional certification for two years before they are fully certified, McGrath said. The data shows more than 570 teachers earned certification through the ABCTE route last year, compared to 367 during the previous year.
Staff writer Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.