State House education leaders want to find a way to attract high school students and working professionals to teaching careers at a time when interest in the profession is dropping.
They are proposing, in House Bill 661, to offer scholarships of up to $8,500 a year to high school students seeking to enroll in traditional teacher preparation programs or alternative “fast-track” programs. Scholarship recipients would take hard-to-fill jobs teaching science or math, or work in low-performing schools that have trouble keeping teachers.
Enrollment in UNC teaching programs is dropping fast. In the last five years, enrollment in UNC system programs, which produce most of the state’s teachers, has dropped 27 percent. At the same time, the state’s established teacher recruitment program, N.C. Teaching Fellows, was phased out. The last class of participants is graduating this spring.
“We need more good people to be teachers,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors. “What can we do to encourage and support people who want to come into the profession?”
Horn is chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee. He, another committee chairman, and two committee members are primary sponsors of the bill, which has bipartisan support. One obstacle would be finding an estimated $1 million to cover the annual cost, Horn said.
Under the proposal, the State Education Assistance Authority would run the program and establish eligibility criteria for both scholarship recipients and education programs. It would focus on recruiting people interested in teaching science, technology, math, and engineering and minority candidates.
Recipients working in hard-to-fill teaching jobs for four of seven years after graduation would not have to repay the money.
Confronting a problem
Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the conservative John Locke Foundation, likes the bill, and said it seems to coincide with UNC Board of Governors priorities in teacher education.
At the same time, he said, the bill acknowledges the drop in enrollment in traditional teacher training programs by opening scholarships to people in other professions looking to move to the classroom.
Horn offered an early description of his idea at a January summit on teacher training in the UNC system.
A House hearing on the bill is still to come.
Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said he had not seen Horn’s bill, but said the state needs to focus on policies that put highly qualified teachers in classrooms.
The concerns for any plan, he said, are the cost, how to measure whether it’s working, and whether it would produce long-term gains.
The bill requires reporting to the legislature on the percentage of scholarship recipients placed in hard-to-staff schools within two years, the percentage of scholarship recipients rated effective or better in their evaluations, growth and proficiency of their students, and job turnover.