A teacher shortage is stressing rural California schools

Backpacks hang outside a classroom.
Backpacks hang outside a classroom at Alturas Elementary School in Alturas, Calif., in May.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Aug. 2. My name is Hailey Branson-Potts, and I’m a California reporter who focuses on rural communities.

Over the last several years, I have reported extensively from rural Northern California schools. These districts face unique challenges as public school enrollment plummets here in the Golden State, where funding is tied to students’ average daily attendance.

In February, I accompanied a group of Northern California superintendents on a trip to Washington to plead for the renewal of the soon-expiring Secure Rural Schools Act: a crucial — but often overlooked — source of federal funding for schools that are surrounded by national forest land that cannot be taxed.


On a Monday morning, I was walking along the National Mall with Jaime Green, the superintendent of Trinity Alps Unified in Weaverville — population 3,300 — when his phone rang. It was another rural Northern California superintendent who had planned to come but had to bow out at the last minute — Tom O’Malley, of the Modoc Joint Unified School District in Alturas, a town of 2,700 in California’s remote northeast corner.

The night before, O’Malley said, a kindergarten teacher quit via email amid an already painful teacher shortage — a national problem worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic — and the district was scrambling.

I wrote about the rural teacher shortage in this story, published this week. It’s part of an occasional series exploring this rural, conservative region through its schools, which are cornerstones of life.

I traveled to Alturas in March to explore the problem. Then again in May. And once more in early June.

In one of the state’s most geographically expansive school districts — which stretches 72 miles from northern Lassen County to the Oregon border — there are six teacher vacancies for the upcoming school year, O’Malley told me. That’s a quarter of the teaching staff.

One of the biggest issues is one that strikes at the soul of rural America: Many people do not want to move to shrinking small towns, even if the pay is good and the living is cheap.


“One thing has become clear in our search for employees — no one is coming to our rescue,” O’Malley wrote in a letter to district families this spring. “Let’s be honest. Our geography is not attractive to many folks.”

And it’s not only teachers who are missing. The shortage includes a wide range of roles that support students.

During a recent school board meeting, where one mother and myself were the only people in the audience on a snowy spring night, Alturas Elementary Principal Beckie Lewis said there was so little cushion with staffing that one child with extraordinary needs who requires one-on-one attention could send the district spiraling if it could not provide services that are required by law.

That day, she said, she had gotten a call about a young child who bit, who hit, and who had spent little time with other kids. The district is already short on special education teachers and aides, and she was trying to figure out which staffer she could use to provide behavioral support for that child in the classroom.

“We’ve been creative,” she said. “But we’re going to run out of manpower before we run out of creativity. I mean, we’re trying, but we’re strapped.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California from Helen Li:


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


George Thomas Dave, as the founder of GT’s Living Foods and Synergy drinks, has sworn that good vibes and positive energy are integral parts of kombucha brewing. But according to a ruling filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Dave’s kombucha company subjected a number of workers to “deplorable and abusive and disturbing working conditions.” Los Angeles Times

For The Times, Yesika Salgado, a Los Angeles-based Salvadoran poet, curates an illustrated poetry series about “belonging.” Each week in August will feature new works by Latino poets in Los Angeles and across the U.S. De Los in Los Angeles Times


Former President Donald Trump has been indicted for a third time. On Tuesday, he was charged with four counts following a special counsel investigation into efforts to stop the transfer of power after his 2020 election loss and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The indictment alleges that Trump pursued discounting legitimate votes and subverting the 2020 presidential election results through three criminal conspiracies. Los Angeles Times

State water officials have unveiled potential new rules and treatment plans for recycling waste sewage water to tap water. California would join Texas and Colorado in the nationwide attempts to create direct potable reuse plants. CalMatters


The Los Angeles Police Department union and the city reached a tentative labor contract. Rookies will get an 11% pay boost in an effort to address a crisis in recruiting. LAist


Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Tourists have flocked to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River every summer since it was turned into a monument. But park officials and volunteers are now struggling to cope with the crowds, which have brought grafifti and garbage to the 2 1⁄2-mile stretch of river. Los Angeles Times

California is facing a nurse shortage. Labor organizations, community colleges and hospitals are debating over how to fill that gap. CalMatters


Proposition 64 paved the way for legal weed in California. But medical marijuana patients and longtime activists now feel left behind after weed’s commercialization and the growth of expensive licenses and regulations. CalMatters

Hollywood is in the midst of an AI boom. As the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA are protesting outside of studios, stakeholders across the entertainment world are looking to add artificial intelligence to the production pipeline. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at



Today’s California landmark is from Stephen Blakesley of La Jolla: Cabrillo Point.

The view from Cabrillo Point as a historic schooner enters San Diego Bay.
The view from Cabrillo Point as a historic schooner enters San Diego Bay.
(Stephen Blakesley)

Stephen Blakesley writes:

View from Cabrillo Point as a historic schooner enters San Diego Bay. Juan Cabrillo was the first Spanish explorer to set foot in California in 1542.

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to