PHOENIX — Arizona’s teacher shortage is affecting schools for deaf and blind students.

The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind has 13 teacher positions open for their early childhood program, and they’re struggling to keep up with demand.

“Over the past six years, it’s important to understand, we’ve seen a 70 percent plus increase in the number of families who need our services,” said Ryan Ducharme, spokesperson for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. “And, yet, we haven’t received any more funding for that.”

Arizona teacher shortage affecting schools for deaf, blind students

Arizona teacher shortage affecting schools for deaf, blind students

That could change if lawmakers approve Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to provide $1.6 million in additional funds to hire 21 teachers for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind’s early childhood program.

The program currently has 17 teachers statewide serving about 450 children under the age of three who are deaf or blind. Ducharme said the program is critical to these children’s early development.

“If we get to these children early, by the time they get to school, they’ll be at age-level development,” he said. “But if some of these kids don’t have that intervention, they’ll be left behind, potentially, and that will change the trajectory for those kids.”

In total, the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind has 200 teachers serving about 2,000 children across the state. Ducharme said half of those teachers will be eligible for early or full retirement within the next five years, raising concerns that the current teacher shortage they’re experiencing may worsen.

He said Ducey’s proposal to increase funding for the early childhood program would help reduce the shortage.

“We’re optimistic that it will be approved,” he said. “And if it’s not, certainly we’re going to go back to the drawing board and explore other options.”