U.S. Department of Education officials highlight funding and partnership opportunities to address teacher shortages

States and K-12 and university systems must work together to bolster preparation efforts to address the teacher shortage, officials said during an April 7 webinar hosted by the U.S. Department of Education (Education Department), which emphasized ways in which federal funding can be leveraged to accomplish these efforts.

While local educational agencies are working hard to address the impact of COVID-19 on students’ academic needs and social-emotional and mental health, many are facing significant difficulties in attracting and retaining teachers. Research shows that shortages disproportionately impact students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities and those in rural communities.

Moving forward, it’s important that leaders work together and understand how to tap into new federal resources to support these efforts, said Michelle Asha Cooper, Education Department deputy assistant secretary for Higher Education Programs and acting assistant secretary for Postsecondary Education.

“During his State of The Union on March 1, [President Joe Biden] encouraged our nation’s leaders to use pandemic recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan and other federal funds to address this teacher shortage,” Cooper said, reiterating information detailed in an Education Department fact sheet released on March 28. “We are calling upon all of you to use your recovery funds to help increase the number of teacher candidates who are prepared and willing and ready to enter the profession as soon as possible.”

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds may be used by a state and districts to make monthly payments on behalf of college graduates from low-income backgrounds who enter teaching and who enroll in a federal income-driven repayment plan to pay their student loans through 2024. A state or district may condition these payments on a commitment to serve in a high-need field or school. These funds could also be used to provide tuition assistance or reimbursement under certain conditions, Cooper said.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants can be used to provide stipends, scholarships and other financial aid to educators-in-training to help underwrite the cost of preparation, or cover the cost of additional courses, pay test fees to earn first or additional teaching licenses or certification and more.

What can state officials and education partners can do?

Throughout California, LEAs were ramping up efforts well before the pandemic to recruit, prepare and retain a diverse teaching staff — often with support from local colleges and universities. The Butte County Office of Education has a long managed and implemented teacher pipeline programs that support rural and underserved populations, particularly migrant students. The county’s Mini Corps program, which brings together college students with rural migrant backgrounds who are interested in teaching to work as teaching assistants in schools with significant migrant populations, operates at 20 California colleges and universities with the goal of developing a group of diverse, bilingual teachers.

Meanwhile, San Bernardino City Unified School District recruits high school students enrolled in the district’s Teacher Pathway Program, providing “intent” contracts with guaranteed in-district interviews once eligible students earned teaching credentials. The district has also partnered with California State University, Riverside to provide tuition support for classified district personnel such as paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians wishing to upgrade their skills and education to become teachers, and for substitute teachers looking to pursue a special education certificate. Some of the teacher pipelines the district has established are forms of Grow Your Own programs, which emphasize recruiting, developing and retaining educators already in the community. Research shows these programs can be successful in diversifying the teacher pool.

Such examples are the kinds of efforts that U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona calls for in the fact sheet referenced above.

Higher education and educator preparation program officials can further support these efforts by increasing the number of teaching residency programs and program capacity using HEERF grants to hire additional faculty and staff; create additional course offerings; and provide stipends, scholarships or other student aid.

The 2021–22 California state budget includes $350 million for the Teacher Residency Grant Program to help address areas of shortage by funding efforts to recruit, support and retain a diverse teacher workforce, which is a strong first step, federal officials noted.

Next steps in supporting teacher preparation may include LEAs providing a competitive and livable wage, including increasing starting salaries and salary caps for teachers; state and higher education leaders establishing or expanding loan forgiveness or service scholarship programs, which often include a commitment to teach in a high need area for a minimum number of years; and establishing teaching as a Registered Apprenticeship with support from higher education leaders.

U.S. Department of Labor Senior Policy Advisor Manny Lamarre said recently approved standards create a pathway for states to establish and use apprenticeship funding to support teaching residencies, allowing teacher apprentices to earn a good wage while learning the skills — on the job and through higher education partners and their integrated coursework — necessary to provide a quality education to students quickly.