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Lawmakers look at teacher shortage, colleges of education

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama’s teacher shortage crisis was the central topic during the Alabama House’s Ways and Means Education Committee meeting on Thursday. It was the first public meeting to discuss 2021 education budget appropriations and issues in the upcoming legislative session.

Jim Purcell, the executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, presented data on Alabama’s teacher workforce and ways to attract and retain more teachers.

Since 2010, there’s been a 40% decrease in students entering state teacher education programs. Meanwhile, 8% of educators leave the profession each year.

According to ACHE data, 71 percent of new teachers are working in Alabama one year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education.  Purcell said this was a good sign for fixing the teacher shortage crisis.

“We can address education shortage if we target that population because they are going to stay in the state and they are going to benefit from that,” Purcell said.

Five years after they graduate, those working in Alabama with education degrees decreases to about 66%.

Currently, 30% of Alabama classrooms are taught by “out of field” teachers with no background in the subject they are teaching.

Math and science teachers are among the most sought. In 2018, the state approved a program to help repay up to $5,000 a year in federal student loans for certified math and science teachers who teach in critical shortage areas.Unfortunately, Purcell said, there are currently only 45 students taking advantage of that program and only four of them are serving in high-need areas.

“We may want to think about expanding it to encourage existing teachers to go and get a degree because its currently based on the first degree that they get,” Purcell told the committee.

Giving an extra bump in salary to those teaching math and science was another suggestion from Purcell.

The Alabama Teacher Shortage Task Force recommended 23 different proposals to the State Board of Education in October on how to recruit and retain more teachers. They included increasing teachers’ salaries; creating scholarships to encourage students to choose a career in education; providing significant incentives for certified teachers to teach in high need areas; and utilizing veteran teachers in recruiting the next generation of teachers.

Teachers are included in Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 newly trained and skilled workers to the state by 2025. Purcell said that of the 500,000, two-thirds will need a four-year degree. Community college degrees and certifications will make up the other one-third.

Purcell said financial resources need to be allocated toward best practices in workforce development.

“There is a lot of movement, we just need to make sure we are focusing the resources, and one way you can do that is to see what institution is doing it best and not send it the normal way which is throwing it across the fence and hoping for the best,” Purcell said.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said Purcell’s presentation clearly pointed out how when thinking about growing Alabama’s workforce, the state also needs to factor in the different industries growing and economic incentives in the state.

“I think this demonstrates that as we identify and recruit industries, that we are developing and simultaneously investing resources in the workforce preparation to fill those gaps,” Poole said.

“… I think it’s important that our colleges are strategically aligning out graduates into job opportunities in Alabama that we are simultaneously very intentionally trying to grow those job opportunities,”

The committee’s education budget discussion will continue today with presentations from state Superintendent Eric Mackey and Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield.

The legislative session begins on Feb. 4.

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