CT bills would fight teacher shortage by changing pay, certification

Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, urged students to apply for the Aspiring Educators Diversity Scholarship Program

Jessica Harkay/CT Mirror

CT bills would fight teacher shortage by changing pay, certification

Legislation passed out of the Education Committee last week would raise starting salaries for educators and make it easier to obtain teacher certification, measures that some lawmakers hope will address teacher shortages and aid ongoing efforts to recruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce in Connecticut.

Language in Senate Bill 381 and House Bill 5348 proposes using state subsidies to raise the starting salary for educators up to $60,000 and to $45,000 for paraeducators, respectively.

But the bills could face an uphill battle due to their cost at a time when Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders are hesitant to step outside the state’s so-called fiscal guardrails and others, like social service agencies and higher education institutions, are also competing for more state funding. State subsidies, through the Office of Policy and Management, would be responsible for compensating school districts for the costs of the higher salaries, according to language in the bills.

“The situation we have here is systemic. It has been in place for a long time, and we could have done a lot more about this but we have sat on hands and knees and did nothing,” said Sen. Doug McCrory, co-chair of the Education Committee. “Research shows us that we have barriers in place that have made it very difficult to diversify this teaching population.”

Salary increases

TEACH Connecticut, a nonprofit that’s partnered with the state education department to recruit more educators into the field, reported that the average starting salary for teachers is around $43,000 — a key issue in terms of recruitment, retention and diversity, stakeholders said.

“Education is a workforce, and we’re in competition with a lot of other spaces to get people to come into our classrooms and teach,” said Kate Dias, the president of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. “We have to recognize that the same person who is in college considering ‘Do I want to be an actuary, an engineer or a math teacher?’ … [gets] to look at the compensation differences.”

Math teachers don’t expect to make the same amount of money as an engineer, Dias said.

“We’re not fools,” she said, adding that if education wants to remain on par with competing workforces, the range needs to be closer.

“I can’t be saying I’m gonna start at $42,000 as an educator, where I now have to live with my parents or I have to get three roommates or I could start as an engineer at $65,000 and be contemplating a complete different lifestyle,” Dias said.

Dias said a $60,000 starting salary, as proposed in SB 381, could also address an issue regarding “the pathway to the maximum” earning range, which has often been a reason teachers leave low-paying districts or the field completely.

Provisions in HB 5348 addressed a handful of issues pertaining to paraeducators, including formally defining the job and its responsibilities and raising the starting salary to $45,000.

Paraeducators in Connecticut currently make, on average, between $16.25 to $23.32 an hour, or around $33,000 to $48,000, according to ZipRecruiter.

Certification

The biggest concern with changes to teacher certification was the question of whether a streamlined process would come at the expense of quality.

Lawmakers and Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker say no, and have clarified that existing legislation was severely outdated and changes are long overdue after remaining essentially untouched for nearly 30 years.

The legislation includes changes to the three-tiered system of certification, where it would essentially eliminate a tier.

Currently, teachers must obtain their initial certification, which is valid for three years, then obtain a provisional certificate that’s valid for eight years.

Teachers can apply for their professional certificate after the provisional certificate and after “30 school months of successful appropriate experience in a Connecticut public or approved nonpublic school under the provisional educator certificate” and additional course requirements, according to the state Department of Education.

The proposed legislation would now allow a teacher to qualify for professional status if they hold an initial or provisional certificate and have completed at least 50 school months of teaching, completed a teacher education and mentoring program and either hold a master’s degree in the subject or completed an alternative pathway approved by the state.

Other changes would allow elementary school teachers to teach more than first through sixth grade.

“With this bill passed by the Education Committee, we are well on our way to implementing additional pathways and flexibility to help these educators begin to put an end to the teaching shortage Connecticut has been suffering for years,” said Daniel Pearson, executive director of Educators for Excellence-Connecticut, a nonprofit policy organization.

Full story on ctmirror.org

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