Personnel shortages and mental health challenges for students and teachers are among the most significant issues that Idaho schools face in 2021, a group of former Idaho Teachers of the Year wrote in an open letter published Monday, calling on state officials to “make a commitment” to investing in education.

In the letter, 12 teachers from across the state—all of whom have received the Idaho Teacher of the Year honor at some point in the last two decades—expressed their concerns about the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has put on Idaho schools and asked Idaho’s governor, legislators and state agencies to “seize this moment” to strengthen the state’s education system.

“The pandemic has shown us where our shortcomings lie, but it has also given us an opportunity to take stock in the situation and make decisions that will improve the education experience for our students,” the teachers wrote.

Those shortcomings, according to the letter, include a lack of school counselors and other mental health resources to help students and educators deal with “the stresses of uncertainty, trauma, and workload.” Idaho’s student-to-counselor ratio is roughly twice the ratio recommended by the National School Counselor Association, the letter noted.

Another shortcoming, according to the letter: a strain on Idaho’s teacher workforce and “grossly insufficient pool of qualified substitute teachers.”

“The bigger picture at issue is that most of these situations were problematic long before the pandemic,” the teachers wrote. “COVID-19 brought them to the forefront, but this convergence also presents us with a great opportunity to finally address them. Idaho has a large budget surplus, as well as significant emergency funds from the federal government that can (and should) be used for both short-term and long-term solutions.”

The 12 teachers who signed the letter did not include 2021 Teacher of the Year Jorge Pulleiro, a Spanish teacher at Wood River Middle School.

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