Trenton – As part of a concerted effort to address New Jersey’s growing teacher shortage, the Senate Education Committee advanced a package of bills meant to help replenish the teaching ranks, including in the areas of Science, Math, Bilingual, Education as a Second Language and Special Education.
The legislative package includes a bill, S-2350, sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal and Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, which would establish the Grow Your Own Teacher Loan Redemption Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA). The purpose of the program would be to encourage students who graduated high school from a school district with a shortage of teachers to return to their home district to teach.
The program would provide for the redemption of a portion of a participant’s eligible student loan expenses for each year employed full-time in the school district from which the participant graduated, so long as the district has a shortage of teachers, as determined by the Department of Education.
“Due to hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, early retirements and other causes, New Jersey’s teacher shortage has grown more acute over the past couple of years. The ‘Grow Your Own Teacher’ Loan Redemption Program is meant to provide extra incentive for those students who might be considering the teaching profession to give back to the community from which they came,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth), Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
In New Jersey and across the country, recent trends have shown a decrease in the number of teachers prepared each year, especially for critical shortage areas. Shortages spread across grades Pre-K through 12.
“This legislation will continue to build upon efforts to address teacher shortages in critical areas across the state and diversify our education workforce. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation, and our teaching staff should reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our students,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).
The state’s Grow Your Own Teacher program would resemble other programs across the country, including a Newark partnership involving Montclair State University, as well as others that are finding new ways to further attract students interested in becoming educators by adding supports such as student-loan redemption, dual-enrollment classes and other incentives.
According to Montclair State University, only 16 percent of New Jersey’s almost 130,000 teachers are people of color, while 56 percent, or 1.4 million, of the students are.
Two other bills aimed at offsetting the New Jersey teacher shortage were also passed out of committee.
The first, S-2594, sponsored by Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, would require the State Board of Education to authorize an alternative means for teaching candidates to secure employment as a teacher with a school district while awaiting the issuance of a certificate of eligibility or certificate of eligibility with advanced standing from the Department of Education.
“New Jersey is facing a severe teacher shortage. Some districts are fearful of whether they will have enough teachers in the classroom come September. This legislation will give the Department of Education the ability to expedite teaching certification,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Most importantly it will help school districts attract qualified teachers into the classroom.”
Another bill, S-2661, sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey, would establish the New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program in the Department of Education. Under the program, the department would award 50 scholarships annually to eligible recipients enrolled in an institution of higher education. The purpose of the scholarship program would be to provide incentives for high-achieving students to pursue careers in education.
“The level of knowledge and talent coming out of New Jersey’s public schools is both exceptional and diverse. This scholarship program will allow us to tap into this talent reservoir to help fill a void across New Jersey that is now being felt by this teacher shortage in so many critical areas of education,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex/Morris).