A bill presented by a bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers looks to expand teaching opportunities for ethnic-minority males.
Filed in April, House Bill 833 allocates $150,000 in nonrecurring state funds towards the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to “study and report” on existing programs intended to boost the number of male minority teachers in N.C. public schools.
The primary sponsors of HB833 are a bipartisan group of three representatives: Ken Fontenot, R-Wilson; Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford; and Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg. In April, Cotham switched parties from Democratic to Republican, giving GOP legislators a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly. Over 20 other lawmakers from both parties have co-sponsored the legislation.
In an interview with Carolina Journal, Fontenot, who is black and a former teacher, said the bill was inspired by efforts in South Carolina to increase the number of African-American males in the teaching profession.
“South Carolina started isolating anomalies in bottom-performing schools… [and realized] there was an increase in student performance with more minority male teachers,” said Fontenot.
Existing programs named in the bill include Western Carolina University’s Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) program and historically black college North Carolina Central University’s Marathon Teaching Institute. The bill also states that similar programs in other states should be studied.
The Call Me MiSTER program has found over 20 university-based affiliates throughout the U.S., including Clemson and the University of Illinois Chicago.
“It is vital that our students see teachers that look like them in their public school buildings and classrooms,” says WCU’s program website.
NCCU’s Marathon Teaching Institute (MTI) is another similar program. The university’s School of Education established MTI in 2020 over concerns that “only 2% of public school teachers in the United States were African American men” when black men compose “around 8% of the total student population in the country,” as stated on their website.
Fontenot hopes the studies produced by the bill’s funding will create a pathway to a statewide program elevating future minority educators.
“There is a ton of potential in working with the Department of Public Instruction to create a statewide program,” said Fontenot.
The bill comes at a time when N.C. officials are claiming the state has a massive teacher shortage. According to a study from the DPI, public school staffing has decreased in the past few years with over 5,000 teaching positions open.
However, the DPI previously stated that teacher retention remained “largely stable” during the 2020-21 school year, a year which saw faculty teaching students online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fontenot said concerns over school staffing were not “top of mind” during the bill’s formation, instead saying he hopes a statewide minority male teaching program combined with “alternative paths for [teaching] licensure” would benefit N.C. schools and students.
HB833 is waiting to be heard and debated in the House’s Education Committee. According to Fontenot, the bill is expected to be presented in committees next week and hopes to see the bill on the House floor soon after.