Gov. Doug Ducey discusses the Arizona Teachers Academy, which aims to shore up the teacher shortage in the state, and how the program will be paid for. Ricardo Cano/azcentral.com
Arizona public schools soon will get 200 new teachers as part of a new scholarship program that promises recipients free tuition at one of the state’s three public universities for every year they teach in the state.
The scholarship program, the Arizona Teachers Academy, is one of the initiatives Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed in January to help address a persisting statewide shortage of qualified teachers.
The Arizona Republic published a first-of-its-kind analysis in June that found 22 percent of 46,000 teachers across the state during the 2016-17 school year were not fully qualified to teach.
According to a survey published Tuesday by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, the state’s schools continue to have difficulty filling all of their open positions with qualified teachers.
About 2,500 teaching positions in 135 districts and charter schools have been filled by teachers who do not meet the standard teaching requirements, according to the survey, and more than 1,300 other positions remain vacant.
More than 520 teachers either have resigned or abandoned their positions about a month into the new school year, the survey found.
Ducey and university officials who celebrated the program’s launch at Tres Rios Service Academy in Tolleson on Tuesday touted the new program as an innovative approach to get more qualified teachers in the front of classes.
“This is just one tool in the toolbox,” Ducey said of the Arizona Teachers Academy. “No one has said that the Teachers Academy is a silver bullet. … This is one piece of the solution.”
How the academy will work
Scholarships will target students who are entering college straight out of high school, as well as people who are entering the teaching profession as a second career.
Scholarships at the University of Arizona, for example, will be intended for people who already have bachelor’s degrees and are changing careers through a one-year master’s program.
Ducey and university officials said they hoped waiving tuition fees for students will help produce more teachers in the workforce.
They acknowledged that teachers can take years or decades paying off debt from their education and, “in some cases, it might push them out of the profession, and that’s an equation we find altogether unacceptable,” Ducey said.
The state’s universities — Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — are paying for the program, which will cost $1 million, through existing scholarship funds and Pell grants.
Ducey said he envisioned the program to be a sustainable pipeline for qualified teachers, one that will “outlive any administration, regardless of political party.” Ducey gave Fred DuVal, his 2014 opponent for governor, credit for introducing the idea at one of their gubernatorial debates in Tucson.
University officials aim to expand the program to 730 students in five years.
‘Teachers today deserve better pay’
Jason Hammond Garcia, president of the school personnel association, said the creation of the teachers academy is a “great long-term solution,” but added it will not address the systemic issue he and many educators believe have exacerbated the state’s teacher shortage: low teacher pay.
Median pay for Arizona elementary-school teachers is $40,590 per year, compared with $54,120 for elementary-school teachers nationally.
“We have to take ownership of this and demand change, and demand adequate school funding. There’s just no way around that,” Hammond Garcia said.
“You have to fix the root of the problem. And that’s funding.”
Robert C. Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, said the new program will produce teachers who will “go where they are needed and where they can make the most difference in students’ lives.”
Robbins said teachers play an important role in society. He also said, “Teachers today deserve better pay.”
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