Here at OEP, we support scholarships and loan forgiveness incentives for teachers and the research does too. BUT, we do have some suggestions for the bills currently in the Senate that would help ensure that the programs support the students who need teachers the most.
Two bills have been introduced in the Senate that provide financial incentives to attract new teachers into high-needs areas:
SB26 would provide an additional $5,000 in scholarships annually for students in a teacher education program at 4-year approved institution of higher education who agree to teach for a minimum of 5 consecutive years in a high-needs subject area as determined by the Department of Education. The program is available to students during last two years of college who have GPA> 3.25.
SB27 would create a loan forgiveness program of up to $5,000 annually for students majoring in a degree program that will lead to the individual’s becoming eligible for licensure as a teacher in a high-needs subject who agree to teach for 5 consecutive years in a school or school district located in a geographic area identified by the Department of Education as a critical teacher shortage area beginning immediately upon obtaining licensure. Recipients must be residents of Arkansas, and sophomores, juniors or seniors in good standing.
Sounds great! We support incentives for teachers and the research does too. BUT, we do have some suggestions that would help ensure that the students who need teachers most are getting them.
Suggestion #1: Refine the identification of “High-Need Subject Areas”
According to the Arkansas Department of Education: the high-needs subject areas for 2016-17, also referred to as critical shortage areas are:
- Agriculture Science & Technology
- Computer Science
- Family and Consumer Science
- Library Media
- Physical Science (Chemistry, Physics)
- Special Education
We were surprised to see some of these subject areas were in short supply. We think Art teachers are awesome, and are often the highlight of a student’s day, but we are somewhat taken aback that Art teachers are in critical shortage.
Some areas, like special education, mathematics and science are not a surprise. Each has been identified as a critical shortage area every year since 1990. Special education is a shortage K-12, while math and science shortages are at the middle and high school levels.
Library/media specialists are also consistently identified as a critical shortage area, however, and were surprised about that. Turns out, nearly 20% of the current library/media teachers are identified as ‘veteran teachers’, indicating they may retire soon. The potential loss of an ageing group of librarians seems to be driving the identification of a shortage in the area of library/media.
Our concern is that under the current definition, Art and Special Education are considered equally ‘high needs’ subject areas. Special education has been a critical shortage area K-12 for nearly 30 years and has the highest percentage of teachers currently teaching on waivers of any ‘high needs’ subject area. Compare this to Art, which has been sporadically identified (four times since 1990). We suggest that ‘high need’ should be determined as having been identified in at least 2 of the past 3 years. Exceptions could be made for areas like Computer Science, that are a new and statewide need.
Suggestion #2: Add in geographic region or school characteristics “High-Need Subject Areas”
In addition to adding a multi-year criteria for ‘high needs’ identification, we suggest that the supply and demand identification model utilized by the ADE could better serve Arkansas students by identifying specific geographic areas or particular types of schools that are experiencing shortages.
For example, while we understand that special education is a high-needs area throughout the state, we would be surprised to find that Art teachers are in short supply in Northwest Arkansas. If, for example, small, rural districts are having difficulty attracting Art teachers, then perhaps these should be included in the ‘high need’ definition.
Similarly, attaching a particular type of school (high-poverty, urban and/or rural) to the definition of ‘high-need’ could help ensure that teachers stay in the schools where they are needed the most. Without specifying the particular type of school, one could imagine that Art teachers, while staying in the high need subject area, would move to more ‘desirable’ teaching placements in more suburban schools with lower poverty rates.
Suggestion #3: Make sure teachers know about the incentives already available!
- The TEACH Grant Program provides grants of up to $4,000 a year to students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching. Teachers must agree to serve in a high-need field, at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves students from low-income families for at least four complete academic years within eight years after completing (or ceasing enrollment in) the course of study for which you received the grant.
- State Personnel Development Grants (SPDG): Up to $3,500 in tuition reimbursement to 20 eligible teachers who pursue a licensure endorsement in special education. The State Teacher Education Program (STEP) is administered by the Higher Education Department. It helps teachers pay federal student loans of up to $3,000 a year for licensed teachers who work in geographic areas designated as having a critical shortage of teachers, or who teach academic courses designated as having a critical shortage of teachers.
- The Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP) provides financial help for teachers who return to college to get licensed in additional subject areas. The school district that employs the teacher is authorized to provide the teacher administrative leave and to help offset the tuition costs. SD1303 would modify the criteria for receiving a Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP) grant from teachers seeking additional licensure in any subject to those seeking additional education in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics, Computer Science, Literacy or Reading, PreK Education or Special Education.
- The Arkansas Geographical Critical Needs Minority Teacher Scholarship Program awards scholarships up to $1,500 per academic year for Black American, Hispanic American, Asian American or Native American enrolled in or accepted for enrollment at a baccalaureate degree-granting institution of higher education or at an accredited state-supported community college.
- Up to $1,000 in moving expenses for particular regions (§ 6-17-308).
- High-Priority District Incentive Bonus: Up to $5,000 at the completion of the first year to teach in district with at least 80% of students eligible for FRL and fewer than 1000 students. Up to $4,000 at the completion of second and third years and $3,000 at the completion of each subsequent year (§ 6-17-811).
- National Board Teacher Certification Bonus: Currently $5,000 per year for 10 years and reimbursement of certification costs. The NBCT program is the most expensive per teacher and impacts the most students and teachers.
Chart from Teacher Recruitment and Retention Report:
Suggestion #4: Check to see if the incentives are working
Are these dollars making a difference for Arkansas students? Are teachers being attracted to the profession? Are they staying? We would love to see the answers to these questions. Because if not, it seems like higher salaries are the biggest issue in recruiting and retaining teachers, and maybe rerouting the money into higher salaries for those willing to teach in critical need areas instead of loan forgiveness or bonuses would be more effective?