Legislators challenge Sacramento to tackle teacher shortage

February 2, 2016

In the most concerted effort to tackle the teacher shortage in years, three California lawmakers have introduced a package of bills designed to attract new teachers to the profession, ease the burden of getting through preparation programs, and provide rigorous training in the form of year-long “residencies” under the guidance of a master teacher.

The lawmakers are state Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica. All were intimately involved in public school education before they came to Sacramento.

Liu was a middle and high school teacher in Richmond for a dozen years, and an administrator for several more. Pavley taught middle school in Moorpark in Ventura County for 29 years. Allen was a school board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Whether the bills will garner the support of other lawmakers in the Legislature remains to be seen. So far, the Legislature has done little to address the shortage, despite pleas for action from various educator groups.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move common sense legislation to rebuild the teaching profession so that our students really get what they need to be successful,” Liu said at a press conference in Sacramento Tuesday.

The bills are intended to address the dizzying decline in the number of prospective teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs — a 75 percent decline over the last dozen years. The shortage is most serious in schools serving low-income communities and rural areas, as well as in subject areas like math, science, as well as bilingual and special education. For the first time last year, the state declared a shortage of elementary school teachers as well, one of only a handful of states to do so.

Several elements of the package presented by the three senators yesterday would simply restore programs that California phased out due to various budget crises since 2000. Liu has introduced Senate Bill 915 to re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers, usually referred to as CalTeach. The program would help recruit teachers, steer them through the credentialing process, identify sources of financial aid, and place them in schools with the highest demand for new teachers.

Pavley is trying again to convince the Legislature to approve SB 62, which would reinstate a student loan forgiveness program for new teachers, called the Assumption Program of Loans for Education, or APLE.  To qualify, teachers would have to agree to teach for a minimum of four years in schools with large numbers of low-income students, in a rural school, or in one with a large number of teachers on emergency permits rather than full credentials.

Pavley’s bill stalled in the Legislature last year, mainly over objections to committing more funds from the state’s general fund to the program, and she is trying again to convince the Legislature to support it.

She noted that when she and her husband — who just retired after teaching in middle school for 31 years — received their teaching credential decades ago, they did not incur any student debt.

Allen’s bill, SB 933, would create a “California Teacher Corps” by giving matching grants to local districts to create or expand year-long teacher training programs known as “residencies,” based on the model of medical residencies. These programs report higher retention rates than traditional teacher preparation programs. Los Angeles, Fresno and San Francisco unified districts, along with Aspire Public Schools, a charter school organization, are among California districts with residency programs.

The bill, which has not yet been posted, would aspiring teachers with a year-long paid mentorship under experienced teachers while they take university courses to earn a preliminary teaching credential.  Teachers would receive $30,000 for up to three years to complete the residency in a district serving low income student, in exchange for a 4- year commitment to continue teaching in the district.

“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,” Allen said.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization in Palo Alto, said while her institute does not endorse specific legislation, “the evidence suggests that forgivable loans can help address targeted shortages, as can residency programs that offer top-flight training to teachers in districts where they are most needed.”

“As recruits repay these investments with several years of service, they also reduce the churn that too often creates instability and undermines achievement in schools serving the most vulnerable students,” said Darling-Hammond, who is also chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

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