Ind. Scholarship Law Aims to Entice Top Students Into Teaching
'Pipeline' issues raising concerns
Indiana this month became the latest state to seek to curb persistent teacher shortages by offering college-tuition dollars to students who go into teaching.
On April 7, Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, signed a new law that provides more than $10 million to create the Next Generation Hoosier Scholarship fund, designed to entice high-performing students into K-12 education.
"This bipartisan initiative encourages our best and brightest students to consider teaching in Indiana classrooms as a lifelong career," Gov. Pence said.
Starting in the fall of 2017, up to 200 college students who commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five consecutive years after graduation can receive up to $7,500 per year (no more than $30,000 in total) to cover tuition as they pursue their degrees.
To be eligible, students must have graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes or scored in the top 20th percentile on their ACT or SAT exams. After receiving the scholarship, the students are required to maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Students who fail to meet the terms of the scholarship, including by not remaining in teaching for five years, would have to repay all or some of the money, depending on the circumstances. Application and other program details are being ironed out by the state's Commission for Higher Education.
Indiana is one of a number of states that have been struggling with well-publicized teacher shortages, particularly in hard-to-staff subjects and geographic areas, as well as declining enrollments in teacher-preparation programs.
In Indiana's case, problems in the new-teacher pipeline appear to be particularly dramatic. According to federal data, the number of students enrolled in teacher-prep programs in the state dropped from 15,115 in 2009-10 to 7,222 in 2013-14. In the same period, program completions dropped from 4,339 to 3,510.
According to the Indiana education department, the state has seen a drop of more than 30 percent in new-teacher licensures issued over the past six years.
Last fall, state Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz created a special commission to develop recommendations "to systematically address Indiana's teacher shortage. "In January, the group—known as the Blue Ribbon Teacher Commission—issued a report urging policymakers (among other initiatives) to provide for more "professionally competitive" salary scales for educators, de-emphasize the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations, and "offset the costs of teacher preparation" for students, with an emphasis on teacher-candidates from underrepresented groups.
Also in January, Gov. Pence signed a bill to create a one-year reprieve of teacher-evaluation consequences tied to the state's standardized test. But that initiative appeared to be related less to teacher-recruitment issues than to concerns about schools' transition to a new testing regime.
Samantha Hart, a press secretary for the state department of education, said in an email that the new scholarship program "was not based on recommendations from the commission" and that Ritz would continue to concentrate on pushing through the strategies outlined by the group.
But Indiana lawmakers' move to focus on providing college-tuition money to entice students into teaching echoes initiatives put forth recently by other states.
Last year, Nevada lawmakers approved a measure to provide nearly $5 million in scholarships to students who enroll in teacher-preparation programs, starting with alternative-route offerings, at select state colleges. And both Illinois and Virginia have programs that provide tuition assistance to students who commit to teaching in designated "shortage areas" in the states.
Legislators in South Carolina recently proposed an $8.2 million student-loan-forgiveness program for would-be teachers who agree to work in high-needs districts, according to the Associated Press. California lawmakers are considering a measure that would reinstate a similar loan-forgiveness program that was cut several years ago because of budget constraints.
Other states have smaller, more targeted loan-forgiveness measures for teachers on the books.
Skeptics argue that, no matter how generous, tuition-assistance programs alone do little to resolve long-term teacher shortages because they fail to address structural problems within the profession itself.
But some school recruiters see them as a step in the right direction.
Thomas A. Oestreich, the human resources director for the Washington Township in Indianapolis, said that while much more needs to be done to support teachers in Indiana, the scholarship program helps raise the profession's profile.
"Anytime we receive support from our legislators in order to support the outstanding profession of teaching is a positive step for our state," he said. "It is my hope that many young people in our high schools will look at the teaching profession in a positive light, and this scholarship fund may entice some of our top high school students to enter this noble profession."
Vol. 35, Issue 28, Page 10Published in Print: April 20, 2016, as Ind. Scholarship Law Aims to Entice Top Students Into Teaching