Schools in almost every state are scrambling to find enough special education teachers to meet demand as they welcome students back for the new academic year.

Across the nation, all but two states — New Hampshire and New Mexico — are projecting a shortage of educators trained to meet the needs of students with disabilities for the 2021-2022 school year.

That’s according to information submitted by states to a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.

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So desperate are schools to recruit special educators that some are dangling thousands of dollars in bonuses to attract new hires in the field.

Issues finding enough special educators are not new. The Education Department database shows that in the last decade more than 90% of states and Washington, D.C. have reported projected shortages in special education each year.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation, advocates say.

“The pandemic, as we know, has illuminated existing inequities and shortfalls,” said Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, a nonprofit that works to advocate for the rights of students with disabilities and their families. “We join our civil rights colleagues and the administration in asking for Congress to invest in teacher prep to assure there is a well-trained, diverse workforce to close the gap.”

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