A new solution for our teacher shortage

Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 11:06 p.m.
Quality teachers are critical to providing a quality education. Unfortunately, like many other states in the nation, Florida doesn't produce enough teachers to meet the demand. We need to reverse this trend before the shortage threatens our children's ability to succeed.
This year, I am recommending Florida invest $239 million in state funds to retain quality teachers, recruit our best and brightest students to the teaching profession, especially subjects experiencing a critical shortage and provide the technology to assist teachers in their very important jobs.
Although we have a statewide shortage of teachers, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. To provide school districts with the flexibility and funding to meet the unique needs of their communities, I am recommending a $40 million investment in a matching grant program that allows school districts to offer a variety of incentives to keep and recruit teachers.
Incentives might include signing bonuses, housing assistance, a down payment on a home, training and professional development, or payment of student loans.
Additionally, I am again recommending that each school district negotiate a professional compensation scale for teachers to provide additional pay for teachers who serve the critical needs of the communities' student population.
To encourage teachers to earn a degree or certification in critical shortage areas including math, science and special education, I am recommending an increase of $7.9 million - a total of $9.7 million - for the Critical Teacher Shortage Program.
The program reimburses teachers for up to $10,000 in student loans and up to $78 per credit hour for preparing to teach in a critical shortage subject area. This 456 percent increase in funding will provide financial assistance for 3,900 teachers.
I am also endorsing the State Board of Education's new rule that allows our state colleges and universities to create an "education minor" to satisfy the requirements for teacher certification.
I am also recommending $1.3 million for statewide recruitment and retention initiatives run by the Department of Education, including teachinflorida.com and the Great Florida Teach-In, a statewide job fair for prospective teachers.
Finally, the most important work of a teacher is the time spent in the classroom. But we often forget that they also spend countless hours creating lesson plans, updating their grade books and communicating with parents and colleagues.
To make it easier and more convenient for teachers to keep up with their paperwork, we are recommending an investment of $188 million in the purchase of laptop computers for all Florida teachers, a program named Technology Tools for Teachers or T3.
Providing financial incentives to attract quality teaching and promote higher student achievement ultimately benefits our students. I hope the Legislature will approve these recommendations to reward and help our teachers and recruit new ones to the profession.
Jeb Bush is governor of Florida.

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