Mitigating Nurse, Teacher and Police Officer Shortages in Virginia – An Illustrative Example

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia is currently dealing with big shortages of nurses, teachers and police officers.

If any one doubts that, please consult other conversations that have already been presented on this blog. We have also written here about working conditions for all three professions. Those need to be addressed and, again, have been on this blog. But not in this article.

This article is about state funding to address statewide shortages in professions — education, health care, and law enforcement — without which society cannot function.

College degree programs. The shortages of undergraduate candidates for degrees as registered nurses and teachers are projected to get worse with the “freshman cliff” in 2025.

The “cliff” represents a 15% drop in freshman prospects beginning in 2025 due to the decline in birth rate in the 2008 recession and lasting for years after. Those missing babies in 2008 would have begun entering college in 2025.

Cops. The recruiting of cops has collapsed for cultural reasons including the public trashing and resulting lack of respect for cops and the frustrations and increased dangers (see any article on progressive prosecutors) on the job.

Methodology. I will offer the data on current state budget investments in higher education, K-12 education, health care and law enforcement and recommend targeted investments in new teachers, new registered nurses and new cops.

The Virginia Employment Commission is of no help currently in recruiting for these positions, and needs to re-evaluate and reform its statewide support.

The strategic recommendations are firm. But while I have chosen the numbers of positions and investments in the requirements with some general care, they are used for impact illustration only.

Reference numbers:

  • The 2023 Virginia Budget Operating Plan for FY 2023 spends roughly $14 billion on higher education, $26 billion on health care, nearly $3.5 billion on law enforcement and $12.5 billion on K-12 education. I offer a truncated version of that BOP for reference here.
  • For reference, Virginia in 2021 had nearly 96,000 registered nurses, 107,000 public school teachers and nearly 18,000 cops. Those represent numbers of employed persons, not requirements.

An illustration of targeted investments. The numbers in the following recommendations are used for potential impact illustration only:

  • I recommend annual state expenditures of $160 million on 2000 new registered nurses and $160 million on 2000 new teachers annually through nursing school and education school vouchers. Those figures are calculated at a fixed voucher value of $20,000 per year per student over four years each. Those vouchers should be the subjects of competition like any other scholarship. They should be spendable at any certified college or university in Virginia and repaid with five years of service in those professions in Virginia. It is important for achieving the numbers that those vouchers not be limited to use in-state institutions.
  • I recommend annual expenditures of $20 million on one-time signing bonuses of $20,000 each for 1,000 first-time officers, payable through any law enforcement agency in Virginia and repaid with five years of service in Virginia law enforcement agencies. Again, these signing bonuses should be the subject of competition statewide.
  • I recommend that the $340 million in the above expenditures be reprogrammed and targeted within existing state budgets. That represents 6% of the existing state law enforcement, health care, higher education and K-12 budgets. If the money cannot be reprogrammed there, there are potential donor budget lines elsewhere in the state budget. Virginia must prioritize.

There are, of course, codicils that will need to be in place for the state to recoup the voucher costs and bonuses for program participants not completing their contracts.

There are other needs in health care professions, and those needs may also need to be addressed within the medical schools and the community college system, but I am not going to try to do that here.

Bottom line. With the shortages, both current and projected, of cops, registered nurses and teachers in the face of all the money the state already spends on law enforcement, K-12 education, higher education and health care, it seems clear that targeting money to recruit new RNs, teachers and cops is necessary and indeed overdue.

Other ways of spending money risk just shuffling the same deck — reallocating current assets to the highest bidder. Ask Richmond Public Schools.

The Richmond School Board approved increasing incentives to hire new teachers as the division faces 176 teacher vacancies with six weeks until the school year begins.

Targeting six percent of the total annual state investments in related budget lines as in this illustration to fill critical shortages with new participants does not seem excessive.