Teacher retention: Fact or fake news?



The Education Industry has overwhelmed the Alaska Legislature with its opinion on the teacher shortage in Alaska. Is this a true shortage or is it just a means to demand more money from the legislature for K12 education?

During the past few weeks, the Education Industry, which includes the many school districts, the teachers’ unions, the Alaska Association of School Boards, the Alaska Association of School Administrators, the Alaska Association of School Principals, and the Alaska Association of School Business Officials, have pushed their opinion that they need more funding to recruit and retain teachers. 

Lisa Parady, CEO of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, said, “We can’t recruit teachers, we are struggling in the worst crisis Alaska has seen in terms of turnover. Fundamentally, that’s very important to high-quality instruction.” 

Parady and her fellow administrators from various school districts repeatedly stated the only solution for this “crisis” was more funding.

The live presentation to the joint House/Senate Education Committees is here.

But is this really new? There have been teacher recruiting and retention problems in rural Alaska schools for many decades.  

Many young teachers are recruited from Outside Alaska to fill jobs in our rural schools. They come north, yearning for the “Alaska experience.”

Once they are on the job for a while, they become disillusioned with the harsh climate, isolation, lack of entertainment, inadequate housing, and cultural differences.

This rural teacher problem has been very well documented in “It’s more than just dollars: Problematizing salary as the sole mechanism for recruiting and retaining teachers in rural Alaska” by the Center for Alaska Education Policy and Research. This 2016 study was contracted by the Alaska State Department of Administration.

The study’s conclusion is that “salaries alone will not ensure a stable and qualified teacher workforce.”  Most importantly, are working conditions.

In urban Alaska teacher recruiting and retention is not such a great problem. The Anchorage School District is representative of the urban school districts.

The ASD student population comprises a very large part of the entire State’s student population. The ASD has 42,431 K-12 students this school year; the entire state has 127,931 K12 students. Thus, the ASD has about 33% of the state’s entire student population.

Let’s look at the Anchorage School District’s teacher manning to determine the scope of the problem.

Parady told the House Education Committee, “We can’t recruit teachers.”

Yet, that does not seem to be a problem in Anchorage.

Here are the data for the number of certificated teachers in both elementary and secondary schools and the number of vacancies:

CategoryBudgetedFilled Vacant
Elementary Teachers1108109612
Secondary Teachers6216129
Special Service Teachers75867088

As one can see, there are only 21 vacant elementary and secondary teacher positions in Anchorage — a 1.2% vacancy rate.

Apparently, the district is not having any problems with teacher retention and recruitment.  

Maybe that’s because the district just gave the teachers’ union members a 3% pay raise, which Superintendent Jarrett Bryantt described as, “putting forward the largest single-year wage and health benefits increase provided to educators in more than a decade”.

And that raise just may be the reason that the Anchorage School District needs to increase the Base Student Allocation.  It needs the extra funding to pay for these raises, for which it doesn’t have the money, and to offset the one-time federal Covid money it used to pay for recurring costs such as salaries.

The Special Service Teachers category above includes the special education teachers. There has historically been a shortage of these qualified teachers nationwide. Alaska isn’t the only place with this shortage.

The teacher retention situation in Anchorage may be mirrored in the other four large urban school districts in Alaska.  

To solve the teacher retention/hiring “problem,” the Education Industry wants to put another $1,413 into the base student allocation, increasing state funding of K-12 by a whopping $287.76 million.

This BSA funding, however, would not require any accountability for spending the increased funding in the actual classroom.  

The extra funding could be used to pay administrators’ salaries. It could be used to pay the teachers’ union more money for health insurance. It could be used to hire more Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion personnel.  

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, on the other hand, wants to target the spending to the classroom so it would have an impact on student outcomes. His House Bill 106 would target teacher retention and hiring by paying teacher bonuses.

These bonuses would consist of 3 tiers: $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000. The total cost would be approximately $60 million.

Should legislators support the more than $287 million given to the school districts to do whatever they want with it?  

That $287 million represents 218,750 Permanent Fund dividends (using the 2023 PFD of $1,312).

Or should legislators support the $60 million targeted at teachers actually doing the hard work of educating our students?

This is about accountability for results in the classroom.  

Will $287 million increase student reading scores from a mediocre 29.46% reading for all grades statewide?

 Will $287 million increase student math scores from a dismal 22.8% for math for all grades statewide?

You have a voice and legislators want to hear from you. You can provide your input on Senate Bill 140 to [email protected].

David Boyle is the Must Read Alaska education writer.


  1. Perhaps it’s the lack of teacher led programs, or too much administrative mandates for teachers? Or perhaps it’s that performance is not rewarded for teachers? We pay too much for lack of a good education, IMO.

  2. Boyle’s questions answer themselves. No, the scholastically scores will not improve, they can’t using failed curriculum taught by educators who themselves, were brought up with similar or same curriculum’s.
    You just can not continue to do the same time and time again, expecting different (improved scores).
    What you see here is an blatant effort to greed the system as has been the success of many past fiscal budgets.
    The Governor’s efforts related to results will never fly as the strength of the NEA union will never allow for individual recognition of success. The union runs on the rule, ‘One for all and all for one’. No single individual can show up the failure of the mass.

  3. Used to be there were primarily elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers. Now almost a third of all teachers are “special service” teachers.


  4. HB106 is by far the best solution for the problem and is long overdue. Pumping money into a failing industrial school system has not helped in the past and seldom filters down to the teachers. All people should be paid as a result of their merits, which unfortunately leaves out the administrators. Large cuts in the administrative staff would cut costs significantly and they would not be missed at all. They should start at the highest level, because they have proven to have reached the highest level of incompetence. And that is documented by a nationwide study.

    • The Peter Principle is alive and well in education. No doubt.

      The issue regarding merit pay are the many devils in the details.

      Who determines merit? The unions. Local government interference. The genuine need for some administration and support staff. Federal interference and dictates. Stopping grade inflation. Restoring discipline in education. Helicopter parents/Karens.

      The single biggest thing we can do right now would be school choice. The money follows the kid, not the money follows the district.

      The biggest challenge of all is the state of the poorly educated students we have now. After decades of deliberate institutional incompetence, students are not ready to compete, much less achieve. Even the best intentioned teachers out there can only accomplish so much with the flawed students given. The problems we have now will take about 24 years to fully correct. The length of time is estimated by two generations classes from 1-12 going through the system.

  5. The most relevant information regarding the topic of this article is brazenly omitted. What is the range of salaries for teachers? Are they truly given 3-months summer vacation every year? How do their salaries compare to other occupations? And, most importantly, why is this most important information omitted from the article?

    • Nathan, the majority of our teachers in ASD provide a high level of quality teaching instruction to our students. They attend trainings each year to hone their knowledge and teaching strategies to provide each student with an opportunity to grasp what is taught and demonstrate proficiency in that standard. However, that is not where our responsibility ends. Teachers in ASD also manage classes that exceed classroom size recommendations. In addition, we provide empathy and support for our students who deal with traumatic situations in their young lives. Teaching in this environment presents difficulties in students attending to instruction and completing assignments. Teaching as a profession has its rewards for those who step forward to accept the challenge. You make it seem so easy and as if anyone could do it. Your response is from the outside looking in. If you think we are over paid and the job is so easy, please, step in and show us how its done!

      • No rational parent gives a s**t anymore how hard your job is or why; too much damage has been done and all your justifications and excuses, even if mostly legit, just don’t matter. You are all at the effect of your insane union(s) and even more insane school boards and curricula; however, at the 30,000 foot level, given the political leaning of most employees in the public education sector it is obvious most of you voted for this disaster. SO WHAT. Too little too late. Public education at large has bumbled and monkey-f***ed itself to the point that now it is just time to abandon ship.
        Sometimes you just have to let it finish burning to the ground and start over.

        • I, for one, am shocked that the outcome for burning schools to the ground is that the schools got burned to the ground. It seems like you got everything you wanted but are having buyers remorse at the free market not magically coming up with a solution for a deep, societal problem.

          Hell, you had your chance to definitively prove that you don’t need those money grubbing union teachers for education to succeed, and nearly every parent failed to take responsibility for their children’s education on even a basic level. So you all begged the schools to open back up, and you’re still talking like this. I’m almost impressed by your lack of shame.

      • Greg, while I cannot argue with what you said; I will point out that there are a lot of crappy teachers in there now that are ruining the reputation of the good teachers. I am sorry for the good teachers that are still on that sinking ship that is floundering in Sodom and Gomorrah now.

      • Carefully omitted in Greg’s opinion as expressed is tenure and the union effect on retaining poor performing teachers. Just because a teacher sticks around for a whole career in the ASD does not make them a good teacher. I personally know many retired ASD teachers that openly acknowledged that the last 10 years of their career were marked by favoritism and intolerance with the students because “they were done” and were just trying to make it to retirement. And their tenure and union protected this misbehavior. In the non-union results based world, this would not exist as they would be dismissed due to poor performance. Where performance is rewarded, then the ones who stay are truly the best for the position. The bigger problem is the 10 year teacher that has 1 year of experience repeated 10 times, and yes, the unions protect this. To solve this issue, inspire competition within the teacher ranks to achieve and succeed, then reward the teachers that achieve and succeed either monetarily or otherwise to stimulate desire in all teachers to succeed. Run the schools like a results based business and the results will improve. – Cheers

      • If the ADS is providing high quality education en masse, why are our kids getting progressively (a chosen word) dumber?

    • It looks to me like the local school board signs off on the salaries. Salary amounts which should be set within the amount of money the school district has on hand from all sources.

      And also figure, when you are paying any government employee more in the form of benefits, retirement or pay, those may well be taken out of the income of many who have nowhere near that level of overall compensation by force (taxation ie sales tax, property tax, PFD tax). So it’s not all 100% about the government employee. It’s also about the people paying them and their own welfare. People who do not necessarily have legions to represent their case in Juneau.

  6. Enough government-union-sand-bagging nonsense. Bonuses, if any, should be tied to student test tied to each teacher’s work. Make them produce results like those of us in the private sector must produce.

  7. Teacher shortage? Juneau School District is $8M in the hole and will soon be giving notice to around 80 teachers that they no longer have jobs.

  8. How many teachers have bailed since covid mandates , gender identity and all the other BS ? Then you have teacher’s union leaders telling parents they are pretty much insignificant . They wonder why they can’t retain good teachers . Sheesh .

  9. Greg, for my part as a school board member years past, attempted to “Step In” as you stated, in part, finding those teachers that were performing, and it was apparent visiting the class rooms, (Note: the militant union members used the reasoning that “You don’t come into the classrooms to witness our efforts) then went to work in early form of “Woke” and succeeded in stopping my visits. Why? Well, when I did discover successful teachers by my reasoning, would reward that and those teachers with a give of potted plant. Where upon,
    that teacher would be titled “A Pal of Al’s” and become threatened by the normal outcast harassment.
    Been there and nobody can use the “You don’t come to visit” when it comes such as your post,
    I know success when I see it and were merit pay in play where it would be applied and for darn sure, not any of the militant union teachers who represent friction, not success of the classrooms.
    Cheers for the Great and dedicated teachers who behind doors, continue to be meritorious without reward but for personal satisfaction, potted plants not withholding.
    Al Johnson-proud ‘Recalled one of five, School Board member for attempting to address the cause of poor results’

  10. School districts have too many support staff – monies that should go to teaching.

    How is using Covid funds for salaries legal, especially years after it was made available. It shouldn’t be a slush fund.

  11. A lot of good views with a lot of merit. It can’t be argued, that we need to find a way to retain the good teachers. It is not just about money, but a lot of teachers have left to pursue other careers because they don’t want to have to be controlled by the administrators and judged by the actions of the lousy teachers. The good teachers are held back from doing their jobs by a socially motivated administration who control every aspect of their job, including their pay. And when cutting costs, the administrators are the last to feel the effects. This forces the teachers to support the agenda of the administration or face a layoff. So of course the teachers union is also forced to support the administration in their efforts to increase funding. Some other way is needed to fund the teachers independent of the administration if change is to occur. The current system drives out the good teachers from public education.

  12. I have worked in education in Alaska for the last 26 years. I was never a union member, even when I was in a district that required you to pay, and I had to jump through all the hoops to get my “shop fee” donated to charity. Rural Alaska pays its educators exceptionally well compared to other states, even when factoring in the high-cost living. The move from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement, from what I have experienced in my district, did affect how long teachers would stay in the state. But there are so many other factors that blaming just funding is shortsighted. Many of those that I know didn’t end up staying long came down to being away from family, limited access to medical care, student behavior, and housing issues, mainly roommate issues when living in smaller villages with limited teacher housing. Rural teacher housing is also hit or miss, with some villages having very nice units and other units being run down and poorly maintained.
    Shipping costs to rural Alaska are also cutting into our purchasing power. Orders for heavy items like furniture cost at least twice as much, sometimes 3 times the cost for shipping than just 3 years ago. Maintenance of aging school facilities is a mounting cost for rural districts. Teacher housing is expensive to build and maintain, and rural school districts must maintain those units out of the general fund. Healthcare for employees has gone up significantly in just the last few years.
    While I am all for fiscal responsibility in the state, the years of flat funding are taking its toll on districts around the state, and the issue has been compounded over the last few years with districts using the COVID funding to maintain staffing levels instead of making incremental cuts to their budgets. Well, now the fiscal cliff we all knew was coming is here.
    More money isn’t going to solve the core societal issues that plague rural Alaska when it comes to educational performance, but it will keep our buildings from completely falling into disrepair, keep the kids/staff warm in the winter, and keep the pay/benefits at a level that is at least somewhat attractive to employees.

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