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INDIANAPOLIS | The widely reported teacher shortage affecting Indiana schools is a myth, and the state has more than enough educators to meet its needs, according to a new analysis by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research.

Economist Michael Hicks, a Ball State professor and director of the research center, said Indiana has 39,000 trained teachers working outside the education field, including 16,000 employed in jobs that pay less than teaching, who could be lured back to schools if needed.

"Instead of a teacher shortage, the evidence points to an excess supply of trained teachers in Indiana," Hicks said.

At the same time, he finds scant evidence those extra teachers will need to be pulled into classrooms, because student enrollment in Indiana elementary and high schools has remained static at about 1.16 million for the past five years.

Teacher employment stability also is higher than most other occupations, and he finds no evidence baby boomer retirements threaten to create a teacher shortage.

"Turnover among teachers is near historical lows, even with the changes to education policy and the emphasis on school performance," Hicks said.

"There is much rhetoric about a looming teacher shortage, but beyond this anecdote there is no evidence of a teacher shortage in Indiana."

Hicks acknowledges that despite his findings of an overall oversupply of educators, Indiana does not have enough teachers who specialize in science, technology, engineering, math or STEM, and special education, especially in growing school corporations.

He recommends using higher salaries and student loan forgiveness programs to incentivize STEM professionals and college students studying those fields to pursue alternative licensing options and become teachers.

"The General Assembly should respond to the concerns of a teacher shortage by implementing emergency licensing rules that permit individuals with a bachelor's degree or higher in an appropriate field to teach in a probationary period, granting a full license after one successful year of teaching," Hicks said.

Looking ahead, Hicks sees tightening labor markets forcing schools to pay teachers more as soon as the 2016-17 school year, but he believes that issue can be remedied by providing selective pay increases to those teachers most likely to leave for another job.

Hicks' research stands in opposition to the evidence for a teacher shortage gathered over the past few months by a legislative study committee and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's Blue Ribbon Commission on the Recruitment and Retention of Excellent Educators.

Both panels determined that between 2009 and 2013, the number of college students taking teacher training courses dropped 50 percent to 8,991 from 18,113.

Likewise, initial practitioner licenses issued by the Indiana Department of Education plummeted to 3,802 during the 2014-15 school year from 5,685 licenses five years earlier. That's a 33 percent drop.

While most occupations easily could weather a similar decline in new recruits, the panels found that reduced interest in teaching has been immediately felt by school superintendents and principals across the state tasked with finding classroom leaders, because 6 percent of the state's teaching force every year is first-year teachers.

Teachers with one to five years of experience make up 21 percent of Indiana's 59,216 educators, according to the Department of Education. Altogether, teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience comprise 47 percent of Indiana's classroom workforce.

"We are concerned about the number of teachers coming into the profession, and the work we're going to be doing here for the commission is to come up with some strategies to turn that around," Ritz said.

The commission is set to issue its recommendations for legislative action Dec. 7, one month prior to the General Assembly convening its 2016 session.

The Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Education last week endorsed 11 strategies for combating the teacher shortage, including higher pay for new teachers, loan forgiveness, strong mentoring programs and hiring teachers who currently work in neighboring states.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.