State awards $20 million in grants to help more school employees become teachers

December 20, 2016

Elgin Webb IV, of Oakland, speaks with a recruiter during a recent teacher job fair in Oakland.

Twenty-five California school districts and county offices of education will share $20 million in state grants to help their support staff earn teaching credentials.

The funding from the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program is aimed at helping classified employees, or those in jobs that don’t require teaching licenses, earn bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials by providing aid for their tuition and other costs.

The initiative is in response to a teacher shortage in many districts across California, especially in math, science, special education and bilingual education.

The 25 districts and county education offices were selected earlier this month for the competitive grants by demonstrating a shortage of teachers, having classified employees willing to enroll in teacher training programs, having a high demand for math, science, special education and bilingual education, and other factors.

To see a list of the 25 recipients click here.

The grants provide up to $4,000 in funding for 1,000 employees annually for five years. The commission had received applications from 61 agencies to cover 5,582 classified employees.

Classified employees range from instructional aides, who work alongside teachers in classrooms, to librarians, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and some administrators.

The 25 agencies winning grants are spread throughout the state in both urban and rural regions. They include six agencies in the Bay Area, which is often described as “ground zero” of the teacher shortage: San Francisco Unified, San Mateo County Office of Education, Santa Clara County Office of Education, and a consortium consisting of Castro Valley Unified, Pittsburg Unified and West Contra Costa Unified.

“Producing new teachers is huge in itself,” said Joshua Speaks, legislative representative with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is administering the program. “But we also want to produce them in the right places, and we want to produce them where they will stick around,” he said. “These teaching candidates already work for the districts, so they’re likely to feel more invested in the districts and stay in their jobs once they become teachers.”

To become eligible for a grant, a candidate must already have an associate of arts degree and be currently employed by one of the 25 agencies.

“Producing new teachers is huge in itself. But we also want to produce them in the right places, and we want to produce them where they will stick around,” said Joshua Speaks, legislative representative with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Candidates whose tuition and other costs are higher than $4,000 a year must pay the difference themselves, unless their school district or county education office has an agreement with a teaching college or university to make up the difference.

Those receiving grants must continue working at their district while enrolled in teacher preparation programs, meaning most would only be able to enroll part time.

Tuition at California State University campuses, which produce half of the state’s teaching credentials each year, is currently $5,472 per year for students enrolling in more than six units per semester, and $3,174 for students enrolling in six or fewer units.

A consortium led by the Orange County Department of Education and another group led by the Riverside Office of Education each received 100 annual grants, the most of any of the recipients.

Orange County partnered with the nearby San Diego and Imperial county education offices, and also with the Butte County Office of Education in Northern California, to submit one application. The three Southern California agencies invited Butte to join their consortium because Butte already had strong relationships with teaching colleges, models the southern counties could use to build their own programs, officials said.

Judy Levinsohn, a manager for Orange County’s instructional services division, said the consortium surveyed classified employees across the four counties as part of the application process and found that more than 1,200 were interested in earning a teaching credential through the grant program.

The classified employees ranged from those with an associate’s degree, to those who had already completed more than 100 college credits and were close to finishing the coursework for a bachelor’s degree.

She said most of the respondents were paraeducators, or instructional aides and other employees who already work in classrooms or with students in some capacity.

Levinsohn said representatives from the four counties will meet in coming days to determine the final selection process for grant winners, with the first batch of teaching students receiving their grants in time for the upcoming spring semester.

“Priority will definitely be given to applicants who plan to teach in math, science, special education and bilingual education,” she said. “But we’re also looking for those who want to work in underserved communities or regions that have an especially difficult time filling vacancies.”

Lawmakers allocated the $20 million in the 2016-17 state budget to fund the credentialing program, which was part of Assembly Bill 2122.

The grant program is the latest in a series of recent initiatives launched by the state to help address a shortage of teachers in K-12 schools. Earlier this month, the state awarded $8 million to 29 colleges and universities to help build programs that boost the number of undergraduate students who receive teaching credentials within four years, at the same time that they earn a bachelor’s degree.

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