Arizona’s ‘free college for teachers’ program is underfunded. That’s a good thing

Opinion: There are more teaching students than money available to help them. How is that not good news?

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June 18, 2018

It doesn’t shock me that Arizona’s “free college for teachers” program doesn’t yet pay for all four years of school, as promised.

Or that it doesn’t apply to all teachers, just those in certain programs.

Or that there is no tracking mechanism in place to ensure future teachers don’t get free school here at taxpayers’ expense and then work in another state.

No.

I’m shocked that there are enough people clamoring to be teachers to create a waiting list for the cash.

Thousands of classrooms lack trained teachers

We’ve heard time and again how dismal teacher pay is here, though the Arizona Legislature has committed a sizable chunk of the state budget for boosting salaries.

We also know how acute Arizona’s teacher shortage is.

The state hired more than 1,000 teachers last school year on emergency certificates, meaning most had no training in classroom management or other key concepts before getting the job.

And still there were nearly 2,000 classrooms statewide without a permanent teacher.

Yet as The Republic’s Rachel Leingang reported, all three public universities have more demand for spots in the Arizona Teachers Academy than cash to meet them. Arizona State University will have a wait list next year.

You’d expect the opposite if teaching really was a job that no one wanted.

But thousands of teachers are in the pipeline

I know college is expensive, and students are desperate for aid to avoid tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt. But I doubt most recipients are choosing to major in education simply for the college cash.

In fact, most students who received cash the first year were already in the pipeline – people who had already set their sights on being a teacher without any kind of assistance.

Think about that: There is a pipeline.

DIAZ: Great news, Arizona! Texas wants our teachers

ASU’s teacher preparation classes are considered some of the nation’s best, which is critical if we want to solve Arizona’s teacher shortage. Teachers who are well prepared to handle the realities of today’s classrooms are far more likely to stick around.

ASU also has one of the nation’s largest education schools, with more than 6,000 students enrolled, up from about 4,100 in 2006.

Maybe that’s not as big as ASU’s engineering or business schools. But it’s a promising pipeline for a profession that few supposedly want to touch with a 10-foot pole.

I’m heartened that the program isn’t funding everyone who’s interested in it, though I agree we need to do a better job of ensuring students who get the cash fulfill their end of the bargain for it.

I’ll take it as a win that there are more students than money to help them.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT #iBELIEVE

 

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