United States Sen. Doug Jones, D-Mountain Brook, introduced federal legislation Tuesday aimed at addressing the shortage of certified teachers disproportionately impacting rural schools across Alabama.
Jones officially introduced the Classrooms Reflecting Communities Act Nov. 19 in response to a roundtable discussion he held with state educators at the University of Montevallo in August.
During the 2017-18 school year more than 1,700 Alabama teachers in grades 7-12 were not certified to teach the English, math, social studies, science, or special education classes to which they were assigned. Those “out of field” teachers do not have a major or minor in the field they teach in the classroom.
In 70 Alabama schools, 10 percent or more of the teachers are working without full certification.
According to a 2018 report from the School Superintendents of Alabama, some of the driving factors behind the decline in available teachers are the low number of graduates pursuing a career in education and the number of current teachers leaving the profession before their expected retirement.
The report pinned both of those trends on decreased job security and stagnant salaries. The state has tried to address the issue through measures like including a 4-percent raise for teachers in this year’s legislative budget. Yet, the problem is expected to get worse as teachers continue to age out and retire.
Jones’ legislation aims to provide targeted assistance to school districts struggling to fill positions with certified professionals by creating competitive grants to help “recruit diverse teacher candidates from within those communities” and to support them as they work toward certification or licensure.
“Great teachers can make a huge difference in the lives of the children they teach. We need to do everything we can to make sure that they have the resources they need in order to be successful and provide all of our children with the best education possible regardless of their ZIP code,” Jones said in a statement this week. “This program will help incentivize the recruitment and retention of teachers who are invested in their communities and reflect the diversity of the students they teach.”
As its name suggests, the Classrooms Reflecting Communities Act, also puts emphasis in making the pool of teachers in the U.S. as racially and culturally diverse as their students.
According to a 2016 report released by the. Department of Education and cited by Jones’ office, 82 percent of public school teachers are white, while white students make up only 51 percent of public school students.
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