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Indiana desperately needs special ed teachers

The number of working special education teachers in Indiana dropped 4% from 2014 through 2021, while the number of students in special education grew by 12%.

INDIANAPOLIS — In special education classrooms across Indiana, it's a math problem with no easy answer.

"It's really hard to find enough people to hire," said Aleksandra Appleton, a writer for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit organization that covers education.

Appleton found the number of working special education teachers in Indiana dropped 4% from 2014 through 2021, while the number of students in special education grew by 12%.

A state job bank lists over 140 open positions.

"What we're doing right now is stretching the people that we have very thinly, and that's wearing on them," said Angie Balsley, a special education administrator in Franklin. "And we risk losing them, and we're going to end up with an even greater shortage."

Balsley is also president of the Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education.

"And, of course, with special education, those services are federally mandated," Appleton said. "A school can't just say, 'we don't have enough people, so we can't provide services for your kid.'"

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"The Indiana Department of Education has made it a top priority to support schools as they recruit and retain teachers in high-need areas, including in special education," IDOE spokesperson Holly Lawson told 13News. "Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education provided initial approval of an alternative route license in special education that will allow teachers to stay in the classroom while completing their requirements for full licensure."

Lawson also said IDOE is partnering with the University of Indianapolis to streamline coursework and provide financial help for educators while they complete special education licensure requirements.

The state also just launched the first phase of a new statewide supply and demand educator marketplace, "which will help connect educators across the state — especially educators in high-need areas like special education — with open positions," Lawson said.

Some districts have offered their own programs for existing employees to get licensed.

"So your aides, for example, who know they already like the school, know that they like the job. Why not extend a hand for them to get these licenses, and in that way fill the positions you may have open?" Appleton asked.

RELATED: Central Indiana school districts plead for parents to substitute teach during staff shortage

Balsley said, for most people, the position is not only a profession — it's a calling.

"It definitely takes a special person to understand the complex needs of the students we serve," she said, "and go about that with compassion and grace on a daily basis."

Click here for Appleton's story.

RELATED: New requirements for special education teachers

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