Teacher shortage bills will cost money

Teacher shortage bills will cost money

(Calif.) With state revenues still surging and school districts statewide grappling with too many unfilled classroom positions, lawmakers are considering a variety of bills aimed at improving the employment landscape for teachers.

Most of the proposals come with a price tag and have been set aside pending budget negotiations with the governor – but the sheer number of bills suggests legislative leaders are serious about improving employment conditions.

Once a national model, California’s teacher preparation system has been put under pressure – first by the economic recession, which dried up almost all new teacher positions, and secondly by a decline in value in terms of how young people view the profession.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs statewide fell almost 74 percent between 2001 and 2013, while the number of teachers earning credentials during that period dropped more than 50 percent.

Although the 2008 recession played a big role in prompting the slide, state and union officials have noted a negative change in perception about the teaching profession among college-age students, prompting some calls for an end to so-called “teacher-bashing” policies that place too much of the burden for student performance on classroom instructors.

To combat the slide, lawmakers have proposed several bills to help with the cost of obtaining a new credential.

AB 1721, for instance, by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, would increase the Cal Grant award for living expenses and textbooks to $3,000 for certain qualified students regardless of their interest of study.

More specifically aimed at education majors is SB 915 by state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada-Flintridge, which would re-establish the state’s primary teacher recruitment center. 

The California Center on Teaching Careers was created in 1997 but was last funded in 2002-03 because of ongoing budget restraints. At one point, in 2001-02, the center’s appropriation was close to $11 million.

It is unclear if the governor supports bringing back the center. Since the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013, school boards have authority over most of the state-provided education money – including those earmarked for teacher training and outreach.

The bill would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to contract with a local educational agency to oversee the return of the recruitment center. Much as it did in the past, the center’s role would be to distribute public service material about teaching opportunities in California as well as credentialing requirements.

Lui’s proposal would be linked to two other measures – SB 933 by state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and SB 62 by state Sen. Fran Pavley.

Allen’s bill would help LEAs establish and maintain teacher residency programs, where student educators are teamed with a mentor for one academic year while completing initial preparation coursework. Participants would be eligible for tuition assistance and a stipend for living expenses.

Pavley’s bill, reintroduced in January after failing to win support last fall, would revitalize a state program that forgives a percentage of student debt in exchange for service as a teacher in high-needs schools.

When last funded, the program covered up to $11,000 in college loans after a participant had completed four consecutive years teaching in a target school. Lawmakers included funds to support some 7,300 participants in the 2012-13 budget but the money was cut by Gov. Jerry Brown and no money was included for the program in last year’s budget.

Another potentially important bill is AB 1756 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, which seeks to better integrate pedagogy training with subject matter expertise.

According to the author’s office, student teachers are currently prohibited from completing their classroom preparation while still working on their undergraduate degree. This has limited the ability, in many cases, of students developing “cross-disciplinary” understandings and often lengthened the time a student spends becoming ready for credentialing.

Bonilla’s bill would provide grant funding to colleges and universities to develop integrated or blended training programs that allow candidates to complete subject matter coursework and student teaching requirements within a four or five year period.

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