Marcus Epps, a resident in the Black Educator Teacher Residency, teaches a math lesson to a third grade class at Castle Elementary School in Bakersfield.

California has invested more than $350 million over the past five years to fund teacher residency programs as part of a multipronged approach to end the state’s enduring teacher shortage. But the residency programs are struggling to fill their rosters because teacher candidates can’t afford to live on the small stipends often provided.

Residents work alongside an experienced teacher-mentor for a year of clinical training, while completing required coursework in a university preparation program — a time commitment that often precludes them from taking a part-time job.

“We’ve seen that a majority are experiencing financial hardships during their residency year,” Kate Hirschboeck, a senior researcher for WestEd, told the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing earlier this month. “Around 30% of residents experienced food or housing insecurity. Just over half experienced an inability to pay bills or education expenses. … We’ve seen that residents of color are disproportionately impacted by these financial challenges.” 

Although the state pays $25,000 to residency programs for each resident, state legislation authorizing the grant does not require stipends to be given to residents. Programs can use the money to reimburse residents for teacher preparation costs, pay stipends to mentor teachers and recover the cost of administering the program. 

Annual enrollment in the residency partnerships funded by the state’s residency grant program is between 300 and 350 residents collectively, with most programs having fewer than 15 residents each year, according to Andrew Brannegan, of WestEd, which is serving as the external evaluator of the state program. In 2021-22 the program had 317 residents, instead of the 500 administrators had predicted, he said.

Risty Begum, 29, calls her decision to become a teacher resident one of the worst decisions of her life. “I regret doing it,” said Begum, who is part of the Yolo teacher residency program, a partnership between Sacramento State and Yolo County school districts.

Begum said she has had her tuition and books paid for during the two-year program but has yet to receive a stipend for living expenses. She wishes she had signed up for a teaching internship instead. Quite a few residents dropped out of the program because they couldn’t afford to stay, she said.

Begum drives one hour to her residency at Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School in Davis in the morning and takes Sacramento State classes in the evenings. To make ends meet Begum, who lives with her parents, recently took a part-time job at a charter school in the afternoon.

“They have to understand — the people that designed this (grant) — that we live in California,” Begum said. “If we lived somewhere on the East Coast in the middle of nowhere maybe we could afford it. Here a one-bedroom apartment is $1,700 to $1,800 a month.”

Begum looks forward to being greeted by students each morning when she arrives at the Davis Unified campus, appreciates the mentorship of the veteran teacher in her classroom and says she is passionate about being a special education teacher. She also admits that she isn’t as stressed about teaching as  members of her cohort at Sacramento State who are interns working alone in a classroom. 

“Residency would be ideal if they gave me a salary,” she said. 

The amount a resident in the Sacramento State program gets for a stipend depends on how much of the state funds are left after the resident’s educational expenses are paid, said Cindy Collado, the program coordinator.

The four-year commitment to teaching in the sponsoring district also has been a hurdle for candidates considering a residency, according to researchers.

Instead of choosing residencies, many teacher candidates are opting for internships, which allow them to earn a full salary as the primary teacher in the classroom but don’t offer the intense one-on-one training with a veteran teacher that comes with residencies.

Sacramento State was not able to fill all the available residency spots in its Yolo teacher residency program, Collado said. “It is really hard to compete with a full-time intern salary,” she said. 

Administrators in school districts also tend to champion the internship model, making it difficult for residency programs to get traction in some districts, according to WestEd research.

“It’s almost like a competing interest, like the state’s investing all of this money in residencies, but they’re not phasing out the intern pathway, or they’re not de-incentivizing the intern pathway. You need a job, you need a full-time job like an internship, not a $14,000 residency stipend,” said one residency lead interviewed by researchers.

Residency programs and school districts could do more to leverage other grants and nongrant funds to help support their residents, Hirschboeck told the commission. 

Aspire Public Schools is trying to make its new residency program more attractive by offering an annual $37,000 stipend to residents — up from the $19,000 it previously offered. It will use a new state residency grant of $9.8 million to expand its residency program and increase stipends.

People had been hesitant to take part in the residency program in the past because of the financial obligations they had to their families, said Lena Anthony, director of teacher residencies for the Aspire school system. 

“It really makes it challenging for anyone to even have, you know, a little part-time job because they’re working all day doing their field world and then in the evening they have to do their master’s courses,” she said.

Aspire pays the balance of the cost of the program — including stipends — from its school budget. The school sites pay the mentor stipend out of their school site budget, Anthony said.

There has been increased interest in the program now that the stipend is larger, she said. Because this is the first year of the grant, Aspire is still recruiting residents for the program — a partnership with the Alder Graduate School of Education founded by Aspire. The partnership plans to prepare 395 teachers beginning next school year. 

Sacramento State officials learned a lot from its previous residency program and are making some changes, including moving from a two- to a one-year program and including a resident stipend. The university’s new Sacramento Metro Special Education Teacher Residency program will partner with 11 school districts. 

“Is it enough to live for a year?” Collado said of residency stipends. “I think it needs to be more. We are competing with salaries and benefits. It’s not competitive enough. This is going to be a great program, and we want people to dedicate themselves to just being a teacher.”

Education advocates at the commission meeting also championed additional financial support for residents.

“We urge the state to consider increasing the stipend size for residents and offering additional financial support, such as housing stipends to residents, like the TRiO program in Oakland, so that they don’t have to choose between quality preparation and earning enough to eat and live in the communities where they work,” said Jana Luft of The Education Trust-West, a nonprofit that advocates for educational justice.

Despite the financial hardships that come with being a resident, research shows that residency programs give teachers a strong foundation for career success. Almost 90% of the residents in the state program were hired within two years of completing their residencies, according to state data. Most were hired in the district where they did their residency training.

All the residents who have gone through the Yolo teacher residency program have been hired, and district leaders have said that the residents are more prepared to be effective in the classroom on Day 1 than other new teachers, Collado said.

“They are far better teachers on their first day of teaching than other teachers who came out of an internship program,” she said.

Teachers who complete a residency are also more likely to stay in teaching because they are on more solid footing when they complete the program because they have had an expert teacher to guide them along the way, said Brad Direnzi, a former teacher resident. 

In 2015, Direnzi was a resident in the Aspire teacher residency program. He had to live in a house with multiple roommates to afford to pay his bills. Now he is a high school English teacher at Aspire Golden State Preparatory Academy in Oakland and a mentor for the Aspire teacher residency program. He says the time spent as a resident was a good investment.

I believe it put me years ahead of where I would’ve been if I didn’t do that program,” he said. “ So, I want to pass that on to somebody else, to make sure that they’re able to do this work sustainably and to stay in teaching.”

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  1. Larry 7 days ago7 days ago

    One way to increase teachers in California would be letting people with Liberal Arts Degrees waive the CSET.

  2. Paola Walker 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    So sad that this is happening. Why don’t they implement part-time residency programs so people can do it? It might take longer 2 years instead of 1 year, but at least they can keep their job or work part-time and not have the financial struggles that they are experiencing.

  3. Robert L Crawford 1 month ago1 month ago

    The whole teacher credentialing effort is a scam to keep the teacher education programs rich. It isn't about educating kids. There are plenty of educated people who would be great teachers with only minimum guidance and prepared lesson plans or experience as a substitute teacher. California is one of the worst states in terms of education and it has the nerve to put potential teachers through these ridiculous credential programs ....meanwhile the kids … Read More

    The whole teacher credentialing effort is a scam to keep the teacher education programs rich. It isn’t about educating kids. There are plenty of educated people who would be great teachers with only minimum guidance and prepared lesson plans or experience as a substitute teacher. California is one of the worst states in terms of education and it has the nerve to put potential teachers through these ridiculous credential programs ….meanwhile the kids aren’t getting smarter.

  4. Kal 1 month ago1 month ago

    This has been going on for decades. There will continue to be a teacher shortage if the state does not step in an make an actual mandate that student teachers get paid. There are teacher programs that will monetarily penalize a student teacher for taking an internship.