Student teachers in Colorado will have access to up to $22,000 in stipends, and teachers who started their careers during the pandemic and stuck to it can get up to $5 in loan forgiveness. $000, under a bill signed into law this week.
Removing Barriers to Educator Readiness is spending $52 million in federal relief funds to recruit new teachers into the classroom and keep them there during a time when schools across the state are grappling with shortages. Fewer teachers were entering the profession before the pandemic, and shortages have only worsened.
“A lot of teachers, people who want to be teachers, are actually dropping out of educator preparation programs because they can’t afford it,” said state Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Fort Collins Democrat. . “They can’t afford to work for free and pay school fees and not be able to get a second or third job.”
Kipp sponsored the bill with fellow Democratic State Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and State Senator Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, as well as Republican State Senator Don Coram of Montrose.
The new law also covers the costs of testing fees for eligible educators and creates alternative ways to obtain a license for teacher candidates who struggle to pass Praxis exams.
Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill to applause in a ceremony Thursday in which he also signed a slew of other education bills, including a major funding boost that hopefully legislators, will lead to higher teacher salaries and make staying in the classroom more attractive.
But first, state leaders want to make sure people who want to become teachers aren’t giving up on their dreams for financial reasons or because they can’t pass a standardized test.
Teacher candidates are expected to start receiving stipends this fall. To be eligible, students must be eligible for financial aid because their expected family contribution is less than 200% of the federal Pell eligible family contribution. Students completing a 16-week student-teacher program would qualify for $11,000, and those completing a 32-week program would qualify for $22,000.
According to a state tax analysis, $39 million over the next two years could support stipends for about 1,380 student teachers each year. Another $3 million is set aside to cover the cost of licensing exam fees, as well as travel and accommodation expenses.
The new law sets aside $10 million for loan forgiveness for about 2,000 teachers who started in the 2019-20 school year or more recently and are still in the classroom. Teachers in rural areas, in areas of shortage like math and special education, and in very poor schools would get priority.
A more controversial provision of the law may be that which deals with the licensing of teachers.
The law creates two new ways for prospective teachers to earn their license, rather than taking licensing tests that include core content areas. Each year, a large number of aspiring teachers fail these tests, and of these, about 40% do not try again. The numbers are higher for teacher candidates of color and those from low-income backgrounds.
The new law allows prospective teachers to submit a course review or portfolio to show that they are qualified to teach in a particular content area. Proponents say this is a crucial step in building a more diverse teaching workforce. The Praxis test is like other standardized tests in that performance is highly correlated with socioeconomic factors. Some people who would make good educators just don’t do well on the tests, proponents of the new law said.
“We always tell kids that we want to give them a path to success, but we haven’t really done that for teachers,” Kipp said. “So what we’re doing is allowing teachers a number of ways to prove they’re competent, not relying on a high-stakes test.”
Many other states allow portfolios, performance reviews, and other proficiency metrics for teacher licensing. Colorado also routinely waives licensing requirements for charter school teachers.
The Colorado Department of Education will need to work with the state Department of Higher Education, teacher preparation programs, and school districts to develop the alternate pathways. The state processes approximately 20,000 new teacher applicants per year. The law states that no more than 1,000 per year can use the portfolio approach.
However, members of the State Board of Education have expressed concern that changes to educator pathways and licensure will let unqualified teachers into the classroom, a concern that proponents say n is not justified. As an elected body, the council is responsible for implementing new teacher pathways and may seek to impose limits on the use of the portfolio approach.
The State Board of Education did not officially oppose the bill until Polis signed it. But several members, including Speaker Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat from Boulder, said they were concerned the bill would impose a heavy administrative burden on the state while opening the door to teachers who cannot show that ‘they have an in-depth knowledge of the key material.
“I don’t know how you demonstrate a deep understanding of math in a portfolio,” she told a board meeting in April.
Bureau Chief Erica Meltzer covers education policy and politics and oversees Chalkbeat Colorado’s education coverage. Contact Erica at [email protected]