Decked out in new outfits and loaded down with school supplies, many students across Kentucky will be heading back to the classroom over the next two weeks to a critical teacher shortage, state education officials warn.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis announced late last week that the state has launched a recruitment campaign in order to fill the nearly 5,000 positions listed on the Kentucky Educator Placement Service website since the beginning of the year. More than 1,000 vacancies have been posted in the past 30 days.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, in a two-year period between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 school years, the number of open teacher positions increased by more than 2,600. Education leaders worry public schools will have to depend on substitute teachers or less than qualified candidates, not just when school resumes this year but also in the future.

Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp told The State Journal in January the district was having difficulty securing substitutes when teachers are absent. In fact, FCS data shows that in September alone, 84 classrooms were left without a teacher when substitutes signed up to work but never showed — forcing school administrators to step in and watch those classes.

State officials claim the state teacher shortage is the result of educators leaving the field and fewer college students pursuing education degrees. The Kentucky Council on Post Secondary Education reports that over the past five years there was a 13.2% decline in baccalaureate education degrees.

But those aren’t the only factors. The problematic pension system, politics, low pay and frequent testing are also contributors.

In recent years teachers have been made to feel unappreciated, including in public comments by Gov. Matt Bevin. Just last week, in an informal We Asked feature in The State Journal, two of the four Frankfort residents we talked to listed the teaching profession as the most underrated job in this community.

With school resuming, now is the perfect time to show our teachers how much they are valued. After all, it is not the latest and greatest technology or teaching methods that make a school — it is the people. And our children deserve the best.

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