LINCOLN, Neb. — On a winter day in February, students at St. Joseph elementary school in Lincoln, Nebraska, dress up in costumes for Future Career Day. While there's fun to be had in the classroom, Principal Kevin Naumann says staffing those rooms has been a difficult experience.
"It has required us to start the interview process earlier, um, and go a little bit later to get our staff," he said.
St. Joseph is one of the lucky schools in the country without staff vacancies, but filling teacher slots is a huge headache.
"They're in higher demand," he tells me.
This is why is Naumann, a military veteran, is backing a proposed bill in Nebraska that would fast-track vets who were not dishonorably discharged into the teaching profession.
"There's a lot of potential coming out of the service and those service members have a lot to offer," he said.
"We know that we have teacher shortages across the state and public schools, hundreds of openings in larger public schools districts, but Catholic schools are not immune," said Jeremy Eckler of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
He says the bill would give veterans who served at least four years a fast track to a teaching certificate, as well as have them paired with teaching mentors. The bill also requires the vets to pass a test on the subject they will be teaching.
"We don't have programs in place that are thinking like we have an immediate need right now. So, how do we make the profession attractive, and how do we find pathways that keep the bar high but widen the path so that professionals can enter this field?" Eckler said.
Nebraska isn't the only state thinking about this. Florida passed a nearly identical bill last summer. While it was praised by some as a solution to the classroom shortage problem, the statewide teachers union said the qualifications aren't enough to produce quality teachers. The Nebraska State Education Association agrees.
"I want to start off right from the outset and just say NSEA supports vets in the classroom; that's not the problem with the bill. There's a couple of things that are problematic with this bill," said Isau Metes with the Nebraska State Education Association.
Metes says her teacher's union believes the bill is too lenient about accepting veterans with various discharge statuses, the education requirements aren't stringent enough and the state needs to figure out a better way to keep teachers teaching.
"It's not just about recruitment or getting bodies into the classroom; it's also about the retention piece," she said.
While solutions at the legislative level across the country are sorted out, school administrators hope this issue remains top of mind until vacancies are filled.