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Severity of California teacher shortage prompts new legislation
While demand for educators has increased, enrollment in teacher preparation programs at state universities has plunged falling by 75 percent from 2001 to 2014. - photo by Photo Contributed

The size of the emerging teacher deficiency in California is too big to ignore for least three senators, who after Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday that highlighted the intensity of a growing shortage, proposed new bills to address the crisis.

After years of decline during the lean-budget years that followed the Great Recession, the demand for teachers is again on the rise, as districts hired an estimated 20,000 new teachers for the current school year. This comes at a time when enrollment in teacher preparation programs at state universities has plunged – falling by 75 percent from 2001 to 2014.

As a result, school districts are increasingly being forced to hire individuals who are not fully prepared. The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing reports that nearly 8,000 teachers with substandard credentials or provisional permits were working in California classrooms in the 2014-15 school year – a 63 percent increase from just two years earlier.

The proposed legislation would ramp up recruiting efforts on college campuses to encourage students to consider a teaching career, provide a financial incentive to go into the profession by forgiving student loans for those who teach four years in schools and subject areas with the greatest demand for qualified teachers, and strengthen professional mentoring to help new teachers navigate the challenging demands of their new career.

Senator Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced SB 915, which would re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers (CalTeach). The program successfully boosted teacher recruitment through outreach campaigns across the state in the 1990s, but due to state budget constraints funding was discontinued after 2001-2002 and was subsequently repealed in 2008.

“SB 915 will help address the state’s emerging teacher shortage by re-establishing a successful program from the late 1990s,” said Liu. “Cal-Teach will provide prospective educators with valuable information about becoming credentialed and make entry into the profession simpler. As we consider how to address the teacher shortage we must employ a holistic strategy that focuses on recruiting, retaining, and rewarding educators. We are poised to move a Senate educator package that does just that and I look forward to working with my colleagues to address this important issue.”

Senator Fran Pavley, who was a middle-school teacher for 29 years before being elected to the Legislature, is authoring SB 62, to reinstate and improve upon a phased-out state program to provide student loan forgiveness to new teachers, under specified conditions. To qualify for the loan-forgiveness program, called Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE), a new teacher would have to teach for four years at a school with large numbers of disadvantaged students, a rural school, or a school with a large number of emergency permits. The new participants also would need to teach in a declared shortage area, and demonstrate financial need.

“We need to invest in the teaching profession and encourage young professionals to come into our classrooms,” Pavley said. “Schools can provide the newest books, the most cutting-edge technology and the best curriculum. But the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher.”

Senator Ben Allen discussed SB 933, to create a California Teacher Corps program that would provide matching grants to local school districts to create or expand teacher residency programs while funding the teacher credentialing process for recruited candidates.

“We know that novice teachers who are trained by an experienced mentor are far more likely to stay in the profession for the long term. Teaching teachers how to teach is a proven way to guarantee more students will have access to a high quality education,” said Senator Allen.