Denver Public Schools is getting a jump start on filling positions for special education paraprofessionals this year by raising pay to $15 per hour and providing five days of summer training for aides who work with students who have autism or emotional disabilities, Chalkbeat reports.
Typically, the district — which has about 10,000 students with disabilities — starts the year with dozens of openings for these roles, which can put special needs students behind academically.
To better serve this student group, the district has created a task force of teachers, parents and advocates, and it is also looking to include students with disabilities in traditional classrooms after the school board passed a resolution pushing for more inclusive practices.
Nationwide, the number of special education teachers has dropped by more than 17% in the last decade. For the 2015-16 school year, there was one special education teacher for every 17 students with disabilities. The average student-to-teacher ratio is about one teacher for every 16 students.
The lack of special education paraprofessionals has pushed districts to develop creative recruitment and retention strategies. In Denver, special ed paraprofessionals are paid at a higher scale than paras who work with non-special needs students. Also, the pay for this position was recently bumped up by about 80 cents an hour.
Funding for the pay increase came from budget cuts to the district's central office, which Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova made after strike negotiations that led to higher teacher salaries.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified School District launched a STEP UP and Teach Program, which provides financial support and mentoring for those who want to become full-time teachers in hard-to-fill areas like special education. In its first year, 150 paraprofessionals enrolled in the program, which includes a $4,800 tuition reimbursement and professional development opportunities. By the second year, 260 staffers were taking advantage of the program.
In the state of California, school employees — such as bus drivers, secretaries and instructional assistants — are also getting state grants to earn their teaching credentials. The grants pay $4,000 a year for up to five years to help these employees complete their bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching credential. Participants take classes in the evening as a group, with the first group expected to be certified by 2020.