As Indiana schools scramble to find enough qualified special education teachers, district administrators are trying to chip away at the shortage by training their own educators.
The Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education is launching an 11-month training program, known as ASSET, that will prepare current educators for permits in mild or intense intervention. Participants will work as special education teachers throughout the year while taking classes ahead of the licensing exam.
"These are folks who've already been in the seat as a teacher or an educator,” said program director Jay Arthur, a former superintendent and special education director. “They have experience. They just don't have the right credential.”
ASSET is free for teachers, and districts are expected to pay for some of the expenses of training, such as lodging for a bootcamp and substitutes for the days educators are training. The program received funding from the Indiana Department of Education for the first two years, according to Arthur.
The program is one of several transition-to-teach options for prospective special education teachers.
“Our niche, though, are those teachers who perhaps there are barriers in the way — family barriers or perhaps financial barriers or whatever that might be in the way of them moving forward and getting this licensure,” Arthur said. “This takes all of that away for them.”
The new program launches at a moment when Indiana is eliminating emergency permits for special education teachers, which a WFYI investigation last fall found the state has relied on for years in violation of federal law. Those licenses allow under-qualified educators to work with some of the highest need students.
Just under 50 participants are enrolled so far, and it is still accepting applicants, Arthur said. He anticipates it could serve about 100 teachers a year going forward.
Most of those enrolled in ASSET so far are currently teaching on emergency permits, Arthur estimates. As students in the program, they will be eligible for temporary licenses for educators in training.
The program will begin with an intensive, three day boot camp in Franklin. Throughout the school year, participants will meet for monthly virtual training while working as special education teachers.
Arthur believes ASSET could inject 100 new licenses a year across the state.
“We think we can make a pretty good dent,” he said.
The special education teacher shortage is so bad in some places in Indiana that parents have reported that their children went months without permanent teachers.
Educators say teaching students who struggle to learn is an unusually challenging job, and they point to the additional expertise and legally required paperwork it entails. But for the most part, special education teachers are paid the same as teachers with other specialities.
The number of special education teachers in Indiana declined by about 900 between 2012 and 2021. At the same time, however, the number of students with disabilities rose by nearly 14,000, according to a presentation to the Indiana State Board of Education earlier this month.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated “The special education teacher shortage is so bad in some places in Indiana that parents have reported that their children went months with permanent teachers.” That was incorrect. The shortage was so bad that some students went months without permanent teachers.