Maryland lawmakers hope a $20,000 stipend for student teachers will entice them to graduate and get a job as a teacher.
The pot sweetener is part of a broader package of incentives included in the Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act, which was proposed by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, passed by the General Assembly on April 10, and likely to be signed into law this May, according to education advocates.
Such a stipend could have been a game changer for 23-year-old Meaghan Doyle, who was on track to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher before unforeseen circumstances derailed her plans. Doyle attended Kent County High School’s Teacher Academy of Maryland, earning college credits while finishing high school, and then enrolled at Maryland’s Frostburg State University with plans to obtain a degree in education. Then her father died unexpectedly, leaving Doyle to support herself. She faced mounting student debt and the prospect of student-teaching without compensation or time to work a paid job during that period. The financial challenges proved too much for Doyle, who graduated from college with an education degree, but without the credentials or the student-teaching experience required to teach.
Doyle shared her story in front of lawmakers in Annapolis, Md. this February in support of the bill. Lawmakers and advocates hope the bill will expand the dwindling pipeline of educators that contributes significantly to the state’s overall teacher shortage by addressing obstacles preventing people like Doyle from becoming educators.
Details of the bill
To qualify for the stipend, students would need to be enrolled in a teacher preparation program at a Maryland university where at least 40 percent of students are eligible for federal Pell Grants (due to exceptional financial need) and show academic progress toward a degree. Stipend recipients also would agree to commit to teach for two years in the state at a school, grade level, or content area identified as having a shortage of teachers.
“There are other states that have a host of initiatives, but Maryland’s $20,000 stipend for student-teachers is the most generous. The amount is significant,” said Lynn M. Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), who added: “I do think states are watching each other. I think the governors are paying particular attention.”
Responding to an increasing need
The efforts of Maryland lawmakers to urge students to start and stay in teacher preparation programs appear to match the urgency of addressing the state’s teacher shortage.
“In Maryland, we are experiencing a historic educator loss. We have vacancies in every one of our school systems, and they are larger than many that our systems have experienced in the past,” said Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, the state teachers’ union affiliate. Maryland’s total enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by 33 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to state education department data.
Such decreases are not unique to Maryland, said AACTE’s Gangone.
She also noted that teacher candidates across the country face a pay penalty.
“They don’t earn as much as their counterparts who are also graduating with undergraduate degrees,” she added. “Anything we can do to defray the cost is absolutely critical.”
Other measures that could give the pipeline a push
Financial barriers aren’t the only challenges that prevent college students from reaching the goal of becoming teachers. Some students find out late in their college experience that teaching isn’t for them, as student teaching often takes place toward the end of teacher preparation. But by then, students may feel too invested in the major to switch gears. Getting students in the classroom earlier would reduce this problem.
“Why do we leave the experience to the end?” Gangone said.
Allowing teachers-in-training practical experience in schools sooner could also combat existing staffing shortages, Gangone suggested.
“We know school districts are having challenges with tutoring, paraprofessionals, and other staffing issues. Why can’t we take students seeking that teaching credential and put them into the school system earlier?” she suggested.
Some students do have the opportunity to get into a classroom before student-teaching, which generally serves as the capstone experience of the teacher training program. As part of the Teacher Academy of Maryland program, for instance, Doyle had an internship that took her into a classroom twice a week during her senior year of high school. She knew teaching was the path she wanted to pursue when she got to college. A $20,000 stipend during her college student-teaching experience later on would have allowed her to continue.
“That would have been enough money to pay for my living expenses,” said Doyle, who now works as an administrative assistant at a car dealership.