PHOENIX - Arizona's schools for deaf and blind students are feeling the effects of the state's teacher shortage.
The Arizona Capitol Times reports that more than 200 teachers currently serve approximately 2,000 children in two schools for the deaf, one school for the blind and at statewide cooperative programs in local public schools.
The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind has 13 teacher vacancies and will need 21 more teachers if a proposal from Gov. Doug Ducey to provide $1.6 million in additional money to the schools' early childhood program is approved by lawmakers, agency spokesman Ryan Ducharme said.
About half of the agency's teachers will be eligible for early or full retirement within the next five years, Ducharme said.
The schools have used relocation stipends and sign-on bonuses to sweeten the deal for teachers who may want to work for them.
The agency spent $33,500 -- more than any other agency -- this year on relocation expenses aimed at enticing teachers to come work in Arizona, according to figures from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
This year, 26 agency teachers got a $1,500 stipend to relocate from out-of-state, Ducharme said. New teachers to the agency also get a $1,500 sign-on bonus.
The agency's average teacher pay -- $47,636 -- is slightly higher than the state's average for teachers overall, $47,218. The majority of the schools' teachers, nearly 83 percent, have master's degrees because of the specialty training required to work with students who are deaf or blind, Ducharme said.
The agency has continually struggled to recruit and retain teachers who know their subject matter and are certified to teach students who are blind or deaf.
Ducharme said it's tough for the schools to find people who not only meet the advanced requirements for teaching students who are blind or deaf, but are willing to live in rural areas of Arizona and travel extensively for their jobs, which the cooperative programs with local schools require.
And there are now fewer programs at universities training such teachers, meaning it's more competitive to find people, Ducharme said. The agency has stepped up its national recruitment efforts both online and at job fairs outside Arizona, he said.
The schools have also started using general education teachers who lack certifications in deaf or blind education, provided those teachers work toward the certifications while on the job, he said.
"Everyone's competing for a very, very limited supply of educated teachers," he said.