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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Education has teamed up with the University of Indianapolis to try to recruit more special education teachers.

Education officials across Indiana say the state has faced a shortage of special ed teachers for a while.

“This is a very real, I would classify, crisis,” said Laura Hammack, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools.

Before becoming a superintendent, Hammack taught special ed for several years.

“It is challenging, but it is unbelievably rewarding,” she said of the experience.

Now in her job running Beech Grove City Schools, one of the challenges she faces is finding special ed teachers.

“We had a number of positions that went unfilled, or we had to be innovative with licensure in order to be able to fill some of the special education positions that we’ve had,” Hammack said.

A new state program seeks to find a permanent solution by recruiting more teachers to better serve all students on individualized education plans (IEPs).

“There’s, at last count, about 185,000 active IEPs in the state, and there’s something like 250 vacant special ed positions,” explained Carey Dahncke, executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis.

The new program allows teachers to become certified in special ed by attending a free online graduate program through UIndy, Taylor University or Indiana Wesleyan University, he said.

“We would hope that we eventually get 300 new teachers into the field,” Dahncke said.

The $2 million dollar program is federally funded, partially by the COVID relief packages, according to Holly Lawson, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Education.

“This program is meant to provide a convenient, accessible option for our special education teachers and to make it really affordable,” she said.

The program also offers scholarships to Hoosiers already pursuing a special ed career, Lawson said. And it provides financial assistance to those with a bachelor’s degree looking to transition to education from another career, she added

Hammack said she hopes it’s a path many teachers will consider.

“It’s an absolute joy, and the students give you so much more than we could ever give back to them,” she said.

For more information on the program and how to enroll, click here.