Proposed state budget could make becoming a teacher easier

A middle school science teacher explains a lesson on climate change using a SMART board. CREDIT: ALLISON SHELLEY FOR AMERICAN EDUCATION

California’s proposed state budget revision could make a dent in the state’s ongoing teacher shortage by reducing obstacles to earning teaching credentials, such as making it easier for members of the military and their spouses to earn teaching credentials, requiring that teacher residents are paid and preparing more bilingual teachers.

Despite a $2 billion cut to TK-12 and community colleges from the budget proposed in January, the budget revision adds funding for state programs that train teachers for hard-to-fill positions. The budget trailer bill also alters former legislation to remove impediments to becoming a teacher.

“In California, we are rising to the challenge and removing financial barriers to the profession in ways that are proven to not only recruit but retain quality educators,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in a statement. “It is estimated that California needs to recruit 27,000 teachers, including thousands of universal transitional kindergarten teachers, and we are stepping in to fill this gap and find solutions.”

The budget, if passed this summer as revised, would clear the way for U.S. military service members and their spouses, who hold a valid teaching credential in another state, to earn a California credential. Currently, they must go through the same process as other teachers who have out-of-state credentials, including meeting the state’s basic skills requirement and verifying out-of-state teaching preparation and experience.

The budget would also give concessions to those who were unable to earn their teaching credential during the COVID-19 pandemic because they could not complete the required Teaching Performance Assessment. It would allow them to meet the requirement through a state-approved induction program or two years of satisfactory teacher evaluations.

Teachers in California must complete an induction program, focused on extensive support and mentoring during their first two years of teaching, before they can clear their credential.

The budget would also go a long way toward fixing flaws in the state’s Teacher and School Counselor Residency Grant Program. The proposed budget wouldn’t add any funding to the program, but it would ensure residents get paid.

Residents work alongside experienced mentors for a year of clinical training, while completing required university coursework. A report by the National Center for Teacher Residencies found that 89% of graduates of teacher residency programs remain in the profession for at least three years.

The state residency grant program, initially funded with $350 million in the 2021-22 state budget, pays school districts to operate teacher residency programs in partnership with university teacher preparation programs. Another $250 million and school counselor residency programs were added to the grant program in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Middle school history teachers discuss a lesson plan on American history.

Currently, school districts can apply for grants of $25,000 per resident to administer a residency program, pay costs of resident teachers’ preparation and induction, as well as stipends to mentors. School districts are not required to pay residents a salary or stipend, although most pay something.

The budget proposes increasing the amount paid to school districts and charter schools to $40,000 per resident. It also requires the residency programs pay residents a minimum of $20,000 a year.

Shireen Pavri, assistant vice chancellor of educator and leadership programs at California State University, is in favor of a minimum salary for residents preparing to be teachers.

“Residencies are high quality, clinically rich pathways to teacher preparation, and it is essential to provide affordable options for teacher candidates to select this preparation pathway,” she said.

An evaluation of the grant program by WestEd earlier this year revealed that residency programs funded by the state grant were struggling to fill their rosters because teacher candidates could not afford to live on the stipends provided. The time commitment required of residents usually precludes them from taking even a part-time job to pay the bills.

About 30% of teacher residents experience food or housing insecurity during their year of residency and about half of them experienced an inability to pay their bills, Kate Hirschboeck, a senior researcher for WestEd, told the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

trailer bill to the budget would remove other hurdles for residents in the state-funded program. Residents, who are required to serve four years as a teacher after completing their preliminary credential, would no longer be restricted to the school district that hosted their residency. Instead, they could serve in any public school in the state. They also have eight years to complete their four-year teaching obligation, instead of the five years required by previous legislation.

The proposal also eases financial sanctions against former residents who don’t complete the four-year obligation to teach. If the budget passes, school districts who run a residency program will only be able to recover the cost of tuition and materials from former residents, and not the cost of administering the grant or the stipends paid to mentors and residents. The amount owed also depends on how long the former resident taught before quitting.

School districts also could be held responsible for residents’ success. Districts where more than 10% of the residents fail to earn a preliminary teaching credential in a year or fail to complete their service commitment may have to repay a portion of their grant to the state.

The new budget also adds $6 million to the Golden State Teacher Grant Program, which offers up to $20,000 to a teacher candidate who commits to working in a priority school for four years. The funds will support grants to teacher candidates enrolled in a special education teacher preparation program who agree to teach at a high-needs school site.

The nation has had a severe shortage of special education teachers. The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted an annual need for 37,600 special education teachers between 2021 and 2031.

Students work together on an assignment at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, California. CREDIT: ANDREW REED/EDSOURCE

The governor’s proposed budget also includes $20 million, to be used over five years, to renew a program that helps prepare bilingual teachers.

School districts in California have struggled for years to hire teachers with bilingual authorizations – a specialized credential required to teach English language learners. Demand has grown as more schools open dual language immersion programs, which teach all students in two languages.

The shortage is in part a legacy of Proposition 227, which voters passed in 1998, limiting bilingual education in the state.

After it passed, the number of teachers receiving bilingual credentials dropped. When voters repealed the law in 2016, school districts began increasing the number of bilingual classrooms, but had a hard time finding enough teachers who had both the credentials and the experience or preparation to work in dual-language settings.

In 2018, the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program began to prepare bilingual teachers through eight county offices of education and school districts. According to the California Department of Education, the program helped 353 teachers get bilingual credentials, and helped prepare an additional 392 teachers who already had their bilingual credentials but had been teaching only in English.

Since the program ended in 2021, a number of advocacy organizations, county offices of education and school districts have called for it to be renewed, and bills have been introduced in the legislature, including AB 1127 this year, but funding was not included in the state budget until now.

District officials and bilingual education advocates celebrated the proposed renewal.

“It’s important that we provide these incentives, to help them pay for coursework, to help them pay for taking the tests. It really does help them get across the finish line,” said Martha I. Martínez, senior director of research and evaluation for SEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides training and assistance to help school districts implement bilingual programs.

Nicole Knight, executive director of English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement at Oakland Unified School District said the funding to renew this program is a step in the right direction, but not enough to fill the shortage of bilingual teachers. She said more colleges need to offer bilingual authorizations as part of their teacher credentialing programs and there needs to be more done to prepare bilingual middle and high school teachers to teach single-subject classes in languages other than English.

“We have really struggled with getting our teachers bilingually authorized,” she said. “We’re completely reliant on the Spain and Mexico visiting teachers program, and ideally what we’re looking for is to be able to grow our own and develop completely bilingual and biliterate students and encourage cohorts of those students to enroll in programs that are affordable.”

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