North Carolina senator talks loans to fund teacher training for teaching assistants

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bAt Policy Watch, we’ve reported extensively on the struggle to recruit and hold onto teachers in North Carolina, particularly given the ongoing back-and-forth over lagging teacher pay in the state.

And as many school leaders have testified, it’s a major problem in the state’s low-performing schools. 

Now, here is some interesting news over the weekend, courtesy of the Salisbury Post, which reported on one freshman GOP senator’s proposal to speed teacher certifications for the state’s teaching assistants. 

From the Post:

Many of North Carolina’s rural counties struggle to attract and retain quality teachers, but State Sen. Tom McInnis believes he has a solution.

During a chamber breakfast event on Friday, McInnis, R-25, described details of a proposal that would provide teachers assistants a loan to take classes at night or during weekends. At the conclusion of the program, participants would receive a degree and be able to teach. Loans would be forgiven if the program participant teaches at a low-performing school for four years, McInnis said.

“I didn’t have enough horsepower up there, being a freshman, but I’m going to get enough horsepower and we’re going to work on this program,” said McInnis, who is nearing the end of his first term in the N.C. Senate.

As McInnis himself notes in the report, it’s worth asking how likely the one-term senator—who represents a rural district that includes Anson, Stanly, Rowan, Richmond and Scotland counties—is to get support for the legislation, but it’s something to follow.

The Post reported that McInnis was responding to a local school administrator’s complaints that the system, like many in North Carolina, continues to struggle retaining teachers or even filling long-posted vacancies.

Indeed, N.C. Association of Educators Vice President Mark Jewell told Policy Watch last week that some rural districts are relying on substitutes to fill teaching vacancies for more than a full academic year.

More from the Post on McInnis’ proposal, which made its way into legislation last year before it stalled in a Senate education committee:

The bill had a single sponsor — McInnis — and one co-sponsor — Michael Lee, a Republican who represents New Hanover County.

According to the filed bill, only teachers assistants working in Richmond, Scotland and Anson counties could participate in the pilot program. However, McInnis during Friday’s legislative breakfast didn’t describe the program as being limited. He said each participating county would contribute 10 teachers assistants per year to the pilot program.

If his idea gathers enough support and eventually becomes law, teachers assistants would be able to take classes at local community colleges, he said.
The filed version of McInnis’ bill would provide a loan of $7,000 per year for four years. A total of $2,500 of the money would be considered a stipend.

For the loan to be forgiven, program participants would be required to teach eight years in a county that’s designated as one of North Carolina’s most distressed under the state’s tier system, according to McInnis’ bill. Teachers could also spend four years in any “D” or “F” school to have the loan forgiven.

The loan recipients may also be subjected to less stringent licensure requirements, according to McInnis’ bill. In order to ensure there’s an adequate number of qualified teachers in rural counties, McInnis’ proposal would modify teacher licensing requirements for those who have five years of “exemplary experience as teacher assistants” and an associate’s degree. The modifications would include either an exemption from a student teaching requirement or modifying the required minimum score on licensing tests.

“Folks, we’ve got to lift our public education system up and stop tearing it down,” McInnis said Friday.

We’ll track this proposal if it resurfaces in the short session this year.

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