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Teacher Shortage: California Lawmakers Consider New Bills To Recruit, Retain Educators

Written by Diana Lambert at EdSourcePublished Jul. 09, 2023 • 5:30am
Substitute teacher Maria Guerrero grades students’ work at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 in San Francisco on May 18, 2023. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

California teacher candidates would get paid while student teaching, and the state would begin a public relations campaign to recruit new teachers to the profession, if two new bills pass the Legislature and are signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The bills are among a raft of legislation that lawmakers are considering during the 2023-24 legislative session to make it easier for people to become teachers.

Before earning a credential, California teachers are required to complete 600 hours of student teaching. The lack of pay for this work has long been considered a major roadblock for teacher candidates, who must still pay tuition, for books and supplies plus other living expenses, while completing student teaching and taking teacher preparation courses.

Assembly Bill 238, authored by Al Maratsuchi, D-Torrance, would use one-time state funds to create a grant program for student teachers. Districts that win grants would pay student teachers at the same rate as their substitute teachers. An Assembly analysis estimates the program could cost as much as $300 million annually if all student teachers are paid. The state would also pay about $306,000 a year to hire two people to administer the grant at the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, according to the analysis.

"The state's ongoing educator and workforce shortage has only increased as a result of the pandemic," Maratsuchi said in a statement. "Schools are having trouble finding appropriately credentialed teachers, especially in STEM and special education fields. AB 238 helps relieve the teacher shortage by establishing the California Student Teacher Support Grant Program, which compensates student teachers during their required student teaching hours to help alleviate financial stress at an important time in the teacher preparation process."

Mary Sherg, 30, taught musical theater as a long-term substitute at Thurston Middle School in Laguna Beach last year. It was a dream come true for Sherg, who has a degree in theater education. But the district, which is required to hire a credentialed teacher if one can be found, gave the job to someone else the next school year. District officials offered Sherg a job teaching English and journalism on an emergency-style permit instead.

"This is my eighth year as a teacher, and I still do not have a credential," Sherg said. "The dark cloud hanging over me is student teaching."

Sherg has passed all the required state tests but dropped out of the teacher preparation program at Cal Fullerton in 2020 because she couldn't afford to go without a paycheck during student teaching.

After she completes her teaching obligation next school year, Sherg plans to continue her teacher preparation coursework at Concordia University in Irvine, and complete her student teaching. Meanwhile, she is hoping that AB 238 passes so she won't have to complete the required student teaching without a paycheck.

Many Teacher Candidates Can't Afford Unpaid Teaching

Unpaid student teaching is a serious barrier to recruitment, according to a survey of educators conducted in 2021 by the California Department of Education's Educator Diversity Advisory Group.

"What many people of color ... cite as a barrier to becoming a teacher is that they have to give up employment, and the fact that this legislation allows for all teachers to earn some compensation while becoming a student teacher absolutely serves as one important lever for increasing the number of people who may consider teaching," said Travis Bristol, and associate professor of education at UC Berkeley who chairs the diversity advisory group.

"It's good to hear that [Commission on Teacher Credentialing] and legislators are listening to potential future teachers who are saying these are the barriers, and here is what we can do to lower those barriers," he said.

So far, the bill to pay student teachers has been popular with legislators, earning almost unanimous approval in the full Assembly and in the Senate Education Committee. It has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The report from the educator diversity advisory group also included a recommendation that the state fund a marketing effort to entice people to become teachers. Another bill, also authored by Maratsuchi, would do just that. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing would receive no more than $900,000 to contract with a public relations organization to develop a campaign highlighting the value of educators and urge people to become teachers.

The bill has passed on the Assembly floor but was placed in the suspense file by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bills with an annual cost of more than $150,000 are sent to the suspense file to be considered with other bills in one hearing so that legislators can weigh their impact on the state budget before approving them.

Two other bills moving through the Legislature would make it easier for out-of-state teachers to earn California credentials. AB 757 would eliminate the need for out-of-state teachers to apply for preliminary credentials in California, complete coursework or pass a test to prove competence in their subject. Senate Bill 811 would ratify the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, which establishes a commission to make it easier for teachers to move between states for jobs.

The proposed bills are the latest attempts by state legislators to quash an ongoing teacher shortage that shows no sign of improvement. California had a 16% decline in the number of teachers receiving credentials in 2021-22, the latest year data is available, compared with the year before, according to "Teacher Supply in California," an annual report from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The shortage of teachers has led to an increase in the number of emergency-style permits issued as well as the number of under-prepared teachers entering the workforce in California.

Other bills being considered by legislators to help end the teacher shortage:

  • AB 672 would require the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to research the barriers that keep people of color from becoming teachers.
  • AB 1555 would delay the deadline for a credentialed transitional kindergarten teacher to complete the early childhood education units required for the position until August 2028.
  • SB 765 exempts retired teachers who are returning to the classroom to fill teaching positions that districts otherwise can't fill from limiting their earnings post-retirement; increases the maximum stipend paid to teacher candidates in the Teacher Residency Grant Program to $40,000 per teacher candidate; and, annually exempts 1,000 Cal Grant recipients from demonstrating financial need if they agree to enroll in a teacher preparation program after earning their bachelor's degree.
  • AB 383 would allow teacher candidates in the Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program to take a paid leave of absence from their district jobs to complete student teaching. The program helps school employees, such as office staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers to earn a degree and teaching credential.

Lawmakers Continue To Fund Programs To Recruit Teachers

California has spent $1.2 billion since 2016 on programs meant to address teacher shortages. Among the largest expenditures are $515 million for the Golden State Teacher Grant program, $401 million for the Teacher Residency Grant program and $170 million for the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing program, all of which offer teacher candidates financial support, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

The budget for this fiscal year includes additional funding and flexibilities to help recruit and train teachers, making it easier for members of the military and their spouses to transfer their teaching credentials from another state; offering teachers other avenues of completing some tests if they were impacted by the Covid pandemic; and increasing grants for teacher residents and funding a program to prepare bilingual teachers.

“Given the crises of the teacher shortage in this state, it is encouraging to hear that policymakers are listening to what researchers are saying," Bristol said. "This is a potential positive step forward."

Originally published by EdSource.

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