News: Quick Takes

New teaching fellows program would target teachers at hard-to-staff schools

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a March 9 press conference to announce the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, at a March 9 press conference to announce the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

RALEIGH — A host of luminaries led by UNC system President Margaret Spellings used a Thursday press conference to announce a newly branded North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.

The proposal, which is set to be introduced next week in the General Assembly, would offer loans of as much as $8,250 to students who plan to teach in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, or special education.

Individuals with high school diplomas, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees would be eligible for the loan, said Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Loan recipients would be selected by a program commission appointed by the UNC Board of Governors and the General Assembly.

The loans, which are repayable over 10 years, also are forgivable under one of two methods. For each year a recipient teaches at a low-performing school, one year of payments would be forgiven. Recipients also could get a year of loan forgiveness for every two years they spend teaching at other schools, and could earn forgiveness through a combination of the two.

State leaders hope the program will recruit and retain top teachers for North Carolina’s public schools, said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who joins Barefoot as a bill sponsor.

Among the others attending the event on the campus of N.C. State University were state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities President Hope Williams, and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

“We set our standards high,” Horn said. “We expect a lot. We expect a lot from our kids, we expect a lot from our teachers. The teaching fellows program focuses on high standards, and measureable results.”

A similar program enacted in 1986 was administered by the North Carolina Public School Forum. The program’s funding was phased out in 2011 by the General Assembly. Legislative leaders said the program was not as effective as it could be, because it did not target teachers in STEM, special education, or those who sought to work in difficult-to-staff schools.

The new proposal is promising, and may relieve some teacher shortages in the STEM and special education fields, but it’s merely a first step, said Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies for the John Locke Foundation.

“While we should welcome a program that focuses additional resources on the state’s teacher education programs, a revived Teaching Fellows Program will not solve the problem on its own.  Lawmakers should consider offering a sizable salary supplement, alternative salary schedule, or bonus payment to teachers in these fields,” he said.

Lawmakers should also strengthen certification and licensure programs for accomplished professionals who don’t have an education degree, but who wish to become teachers, Stoops added.