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State legislators pitch 3 ideas to combat California teacher shortage

Downey Unified uses fourth grade teacher Tanya Bishop's classroom to demonstrate best practices in the new Common Core learning standards.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
Downey Unified uses fourth grade teacher Tanya Bishop's classroom to demonstrate best practices in the new Common Core learning standards.

State legislators unveiled three proposals on Tuesday to address California's teacher shortage. 

The state Senate bills aim to improve recruitment of college students thinking about becoming teachers, increase mentorship of beginning teachers, and forgive student loans for teachers who work in high-need schools.

“The outlook across our state is bleak,” said State Senator Carol Liu (D-Pasadena) about the high demand for teachers and the low supply.

“Enrollment in our California teacher preparation programs has declined from 2001 to 2014 by 76 percent," she said. "With the future of our state and our students at stake, we cannot allow these trends to continue."

Liu’s bill would resurrect a program called CalTeach, which was eliminated in 2003 as a result of state budget cuts. The teacher credentialing process is often “complex and intimidating,” Liu said, and CalTeach helped college students understand how it worked while also explaining financial aid options.

State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Calabasas) authored SB 62 to reinstate a student loan forgiveness program for new teachers who teach for four years at a school with large numbers of disadvantaged students, or a rural school, or a school with a large number of emergency permits. The new teachers would also have to teach in a declared shortage area, and demonstrate financial need.

The third proposal, SB 933 authored by State Senator Ben Allen (D-West Los Angeles), would create matching grants for school districts to create or expand teacher residency programs.

It may take these and more efforts to turn around a widely held belief that teaching is a very unstable job. Until about five years ago, the most common news from school districts was how many teachers they were planning to layoff because of the recession.

“If I’m coming out of a college and I’m seeing this huge number of teachers that are on the market that have been laid off, I’m not going to go into teaching,” said Darren Knowles, assistant superintendent for human resources at Pomona Unified School District.

Knowles thinks the loan forgiveness proposal will help recruitment. He said Pomona Unified will fill about 35 teacher positions next year that opened due to retirements, relocations, and other reasons. And hiring won’t stop soon, he said, because 28 percent of his teachers are over 55 years old. According to a recent report by the Learning Policy Institute the teacher job board EdJoin had nearly 4,000 open teaching positions in California. 

The improving state budget has helped recruiting efforts by giving school districts more money to increase pay.

San Gabriel Unified officials are having a tough time filling openings for special education teachers as well as high school science, math, and social studies. The salary for a beginning teacher there is about $44,000.

“We’ve lost a number of teachers that we made offers to that had higher offers from other districts,” Superintendent John Pappalardo.

So the district is working with the teachers union to raise beginning teacher pay by about $6,000.

Pappalardo said he’s sending recruiters to job fairs for the first time in years. He hopes to sweeten job offers with the age-old promise of summers off and good benefits.