Arkansas struggling with minority teacher shortage

Across the country, minority students are a majority in public schools. Minority teachers, though, only make up about 20% of educators.

JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - The less-than-two-year-old Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District is awaiting a ruling from a federal judge about whether or not they can be declared "desegregated."

The district inherited desegregation obligations from the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) after breaking apart from the district.

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One of the issues, highlighted in court, was how difficult it is for school districts to get and retain minority teachers, highlighting a bigger problem nationwide.

Across the country, minority students are a majority in public schools. Minority teachers, though, only make up about 20% of educators.

It's certainly not because they're not wanted. Minority teachers are highly coveted in the education business.

"It's heartbreaking,’ said Kyla Lawrence, a teacher at North Little Rock Academy. "In our profession, it is a lack of respect, lack of support, the pay, the fact that our field is still viewed as predominantly viewed as a female field. Sometimes I believe that has to do with the way we are paid. And sometimes the way we are treated."

Districts in states across the country are pulling out all the stops to get and retain minority teachers.

"There are so few out there, they get to select where they want to work, and when they do, they are looking at salaries. They are looking at quality of life. The pay disparity between a larger district...versus a small district, is so large...that the choice is basically made by itself,” explained Cathy Koehler, President of the Arkansas Educator’s Association.

Whether you live in a city like Little Rock, or a small town in the country, experts say it is important for students to have teachers - mentors that look like them - come from their neighborhoods.

"They need people they can go to, who they can see themselves in,” Lawrence emphasized.

"In the field now, we have about 33,000 teachers in Arkansas public schools. Of that number, about eight to ten percent are minority teachers,” explained Dr. Jeremy Owoh.

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He says the Arkansas Department of Education would like to see that number increase by 25% in the next five years and have enacted several incentive programs to help streamline the process for those interested in becoming teachers.

"We feel like if we grow our teachers within those communities, that will also meet the need of growing, not only our teacher pipeline, but also our minority candidates within the teacher pipeline as well," he said. "[Then] they will be more prepared to meet the needs of those students."

The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) is hosting a career fair for those interested in becoming educators tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wyndham in North Little Rock.

School districts will be on-hand to recruit, as well as ADE members, who can talk to you about loan forgiveness and those streamline processes.

For more information, visit the Arkansas Department of Education website.

No ruling has been made yet in the case of Jacksonville/North Pulaski.