California schools are in the midst of a quiet crisis.
An estimated one-third of the state’s teaching work force is nearing retirement age, and school districts increasingly are having a hard time replacing them.
Enrollments in teacher-preparation programs have been free-falling for a dozen years: down from 77,700 in 2001 to 19,933 in 2013, a drop of 74 percent.
New teaching credential totals declined by a quarter for the five fiscal years preceding 2013-14. It’s time for the governor and lawmakers to stem the looming shortage by giving potential teachers modest financial incentives to offset some of the costs of five-plus years of training.
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Parents across California are well aware that the shortage is already affecting their children’s classrooms. A Field Poll conducted for EdSource in November shows 64 percent of registered voters believe the shortage is a “very serious” problem, and 85 percent support financial incentives to attract new teachers.
Experts point to a number of reasons why teaching is losing its allure: high college tuition costs, low starting salaries and elimination of financial incentives to enter the profession.
The shortage is severe in math, science and special education, and is starting to impact English, history, social sciences and computer education.
“It’s a five-alarm fire,” warns Linda Darling Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
The Legislature and state government need to do something and soon because California’s 1,000-plus school districts already can’t find enough professionally trained teachers to staff every kindergarten-through-12th-grade classroom.
Consequently, district administrators have been forced to waive legal credential requirements and hire interns and other less-prepared teachers. Los Angeles County schools issued 1,188 intern credentials, permits and waivers in 2013-14, according to a credentialing commission report.
The problem is no less acute in other areas of the state. Alameda County schools granted 402 exceptions; Sacramento County 379; Riverside County 255; and Fresno County 225.
Fixing the problem isn’t easy. Recognizing the potential shortage, in this year’s budget the state invested $490 million in teacher professional development programs such as the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Induction. Despite this investment, we must do better.
The Assumption Program of Loans for Education, known to educators by the acronym of APLE, received no funding from lawmakers when they crafted this year’s spending plan. The program, which provided more than $80 million a year in assistance a decade ago, soon will be completely phased out.
One idea to restart the program would be to give future teachers a modest incentive for spending at least five years earning a bachelor’s degree and a state teaching credential. Add in forgiveness for student loans, and we can move committed young teachers into qualifying schools and subject areas.
This proposal is supported by Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, and is backed by every major educational and professional organization, including the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association.
Lawmakers, who opted not to provide new funding for APLE during the 2015 legislative session, have a second chance to help our schools attract the best-trained teachers. We hope to make refunding APLE a priority in next year’s state budget or by passing Sen. Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 62, which would revive and improve this proven state program.
We need to invest in the teaching profession and encourage young professionals to come into our classrooms. Schools can provide the newest books, the most cutting-edge technology and the best curriculum, but the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher.
State Sen. Fran Pavley, a Democrat from Agoura Hills, represents Senate District 27. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, represents Assembly District 7.