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California Districts Report Another Year of Teacher Shortages

California Districts Report Another Year of Teacher Shortages

This year, 2 in 5 new Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teachers have not yet completed the preparation and requirements for a preliminary credential. In Stockton Unified, more than half of the new teachers are underprepared. And in Shoreline Unified—a rural Northern California district—just one of the five new teachers hired for the 2017–18 school year was fully credentialed. In these districts and throughout the state, many new teachers lack any experience teaching the subject or students they were hired to teach and are not even enrolled in a teacher preparation program. That’s according to a survey conducted last fall by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which found that persistent teacher shortages are once again leading districts to rely on underprepared teachers to fill classrooms throughout the state.

California’s Investments to Address Teacher Shortages


  • California Classified Staff Teacher Credentialing Program: $20M for grants to local education agencies to recruit classified staff to become certified teachers. The program offers tuition assistance of up to $20,000 per candidate over 5 years.
  • Integrated Teacher Preparation Program Grant: $10M for grants to institutions of higher education to develop or expand 4-year teacher preparation programs. These programs can be less costly and require less time in school than more common 5-year programs or a master’s degree.
  • California Center on Teaching Careers: $5M to recruit new teacher candidates.


  • Classified Staff Teacher Credentialing Program: An additional $25M for grants to local education agencies to recruit classified staff to become certified teachers.
  • Bilingual Professional Development Program: $5M for initiatives to increase bilingual authorizations.
  • CalED Grant Program: $2.7M for teacher recruitment and retention and $6.5M for school leader development.

Shortages were not a problem for many districts during the Great Recession. During that time of budget cuts, California districts laid off teachers in droves. But with the passage of Proposition 30 and implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013, district budgets increased, allowing them to reinstate programs and classes lost to the Recession and to expand learning opportunities for students with the greatest needs. By the time districts were able to expand their staffing, though, the supply of new teachers entering the field had dwindled considerably and qualified teachers remain hard to find.

Teachers who are the most green, the most inexperienced are filling one of the most difficult placements, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge.
Marilyn Lucey, parent

In particular, a severe shortage of qualified special education teachers statewide means that many of the least prepared teachers throughout the state are serving students with complex learning needs, including students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, and emotional challenges. “Teachers who are the most green, the most inexperienced are filling one of the most difficult placements, requiring a high level of skill and knowledge,” says Marilyn Lucey, whose 15-year-old son, Trevor, is on the autism spectrum. Lucey, who is also active in the California State PTA, says filling vacancies with a series of substitutes, as often happens when vacancies occur after the school year has started, can be especially hard for students with special needs, who thrive on stability. “The kiddos [with special needs] have an even more difficult time with transitions. In classes with substitutes,” says Lucey, “they never get to stasis, where everyone is focused on learning,” because they are constantly having to adapt and get comfortable with new classroom staff.

Survey Results: Another Year of Shortages

Since 2016, LPI has been tracking the California teacher shortage and its impact on students and schools. This school year, LPI conducted a survey of 25 California districts in urban, suburban, and rural districts to understand how shortages were being experienced throughout the state and how officials are responding when they are unable to fill all of their open positions. Together, these districts serve a quarter of all students in California.

The responses were telling: Eighty percent of survey respondents reported a teacher shortage for the 2017–18 school year. These shortages were reported by 83% of large urban and suburban districts and 71% of rural districts. Thirty-five percent of districts with shortages reported that those shortages are worse this year than last year; 55% said the severity had not changed. Just 10% of districts experiencing shortages said they had improved since last year.

Three in four surveyed districts reported they were unable to fill all their vacancies with fully credentialed teachers this year. In some cases, districts respond to shortages by eliminating courses or increasing class size. Often, they fill vacancies with substitutes or by hiring underprepared teachers. Indeed, 82% of surveyed districts hired underprepared teachers this year and two-thirds filled positions with the least prepared teachers on emergency-style authorizations. And our survey indicates this practice is becoming even more common: In half of the districts that reported hiring underprepared teachers and teachers on emergency-style authorizations, these teachers made up more of their new hires this year than the year before. 

Underprepared teachers often fill positions in special education, mathematics, and science. Statewide data indicate that 2 in 3 newly hired special education teachers and 2 in 5 newly hired math or science teachers are underprepared. Underprepared teachers are also far more likely to teach in schools serving primarily students of color and students from low-income families.

LAUSD, like many districts, has taken several steps to meet the demand for teachers, including working closely with local university partners to provide student teaching placements in high-need fields, such as bilingual education, a key area of need as districts look to create and expand bilingual programs. The district has also bolstered it career ladder program to support paraprofessionals and classified staff to become certified teachers and is creating a program to assist teachers in earning a bilingual authorization.

Overwhelmingly, respondents to the LPI survey indicated that state policies can also play a role in reducing teacher shortages. Of the districts we surveyed, 83% reported that state funding for loan forgiveness or service scholarships could reduce shortages. Districts also support state resources for teacher residencies and other “Grow Your Own” programs (74% of districts) and support and mentoring for all novice teachers (74%), among other state policy options. An interesting data point about the potential impact of service scholarships: A survey of teacher preparation programs conducted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) found that the state’s teacher prep programs could serve more teacher candidates, but a lack of financial aid has been an obstacle for increasing enrollment.

Over the past two years, the state has invested nearly $70 million in curbing teacher shortages. These investments have funded several grant programs designed to incentivize greater teacher preparation enrollment, including 4-year undergraduate teacher certification programs and programs that support paraprofessionals to become teachers (see sidebar). These efforts will increase the supply of well-prepared teachers in the long term, but it will be several years before their impact is felt. For example, the first cohort of aspiring teachers enrolling in 4-year undergraduate preparation programs won’t start their course of study until next fall and won’t be ready for classrooms until the fall of 2022. Similarly, many paraprofessionals will need several years to complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching credential.

In the meantime, shortages remain in districts across the state and policymakers are looking for evidence-based strategies that can build the pipeline of teachers immediately and quickly, using high-retention pathways and strategies. The loan forgiveness programs and service scholarships supported by the majority of district officials we surveyed underwrite the cost of preparation in exchange for a commitment to teach in the state, making them an effective strategy for recruiting teacher candidates into high-quality teacher preparation programs and preparing them to teach in high-need subjects and locations. These same programs would also address the high cost of entry into the profession that the CCTC has noted is resulting in an under-enrollment of existing programs. 

Teacher residencies can also help build the supply of well-prepared teachers in the urban and rural districts where they are needed the most—and do so quickly. In these programs, residents participate in 1-year intensive apprenticeships under the guidance of a master teacher in a high-need district while earning a master’s degree at a partnering university. They receive a stipend and tuition assistance in exchange for a commitment to teach in the district for 3 to 4 years after their residency. Residents also tend to be more diverse than other new teachers, have significantly higher retention rates, and have been found to be highly effective in a number of studies.

This year, Governor Brown has proposed allocating $100 million to combating special education teacher shortages. Half of those funds would go toward a grant program for local solutions to special education shortages, including loan repayments for teachers’ training so that teachers can start their careers debt-free. The other half would fund special education teacher residencies.

Special education shortages are severe in the state, but there is a real need for qualified teachers in math, science, and bilingual education as well. Loan forgiveness programs, service scholarships, and high-retention pathways like teacher residencies, targeted to our highest-need fields, can address the immediate shortfalls districts continue to contend with, without compromising on teacher quality.