TRENTON – With the alarm sounded about an impending teacher shortage that is already affecting specialty subjects, state officials this week launched a pilot program and advanced proposals in the Legislature for a few more attempts to help.

None are as direct as what’s recommended by a New Jersey Policy Perspective report published Thursday: Pay teachers more and don’t whittle away their health benefits.

The pilot program approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education, in connection with a new law enacted last year, creates new limited certificates that allow would-be teachers to be hired even if they missed one of the typical requirements to qualify, such as a high enough grade point average or a passing score on a state test.

Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan says it’s a way to help school districts and charter schools that choose to take part in the five-year pilot program – 118 of them, so far, with others welcome to apply at any time.

“Providing the flexibility, if you will a catchment, for individuals who are close, individuals who have proven that they have the ability to be successful in a school environment is paramount with the times that we live in,” Allen-McMillan said.

The program will be in effect through November 2027.

State Board of Education President Kathy Goldenberg said she has heard concerns from a range of superintendents about the need for more teachers.

“And one would be surprised at the districts that are easily getting teacher candidates and yet they’re poaching from one another for specialized fields. So, let’s hope that this brings many more educators into the profession,” Goldenberg said.

Board Vice President Andrew Mulvihill supported the pilot program but expressed concern it could lead to lower-quality teaching candidates.

"I know that we need more teachers. I understand why we're doing this. But there's a concern here, and I know that there's probably plenty of people that have this concern," Mulvihill said.

The Senate Education Committee advanced two bills Thursday aimed at attracting more teachers. One provides repayment of up to $50,000 in student loans, at $10,000 a year, and the other provides tuition waivers and $5,000 yearly stipends as scholarships for high-achieving students.

Francine Pfeffer, associate director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association, said the union is “very, very concerned” because the pipeline of new teachers is getting smaller.

“It’s very, very expensive to enter the field of education and go to college, and these two bills will help alleviate that,” Pfeffer said.

Pfeffer says the NJEA hopes for action on other legislation, too.

The Assembly Higher Education Committee two weeks ago advanced a plan to spend $6 million on teacher recruitment grants. Lawmakers have also taken up legislation that would end a requirement that new teachers pass the edTPA portfolio assessment, which they say is costly and time-consuming.

A new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective says the number of New Jersey college students graduating with a teaching degree hit an all-time low in 2020 of 3,511, down nearly 35% in nine years.

“Even before the increased pressures on teachers and more school staff considered leaving their positions, fewer candidates were enrolling in and completing teacher training programs,” says the report, written by Mark Weber. “If New Jersey does not act soon, there will not be enough qualified candidates to replace teachers leaving the profession.”

The report says the number of people completing teacher preparation in New Jersey has gone from almost five for every 1,000 students seven years ago to barely two per 1,000 in 2018-19.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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New Jersey high school graduation rates

The lists below show 4-year graduation rates for New Jersey public schools for the 2020-21 school year. The statewide graduation rate fell slightly, from 91% in 2019-20 to 90.6%.

The lists, which are sorted by county and include a separate list for charter schools, also include a second graduation rate, which excludes students whose special education IEPs allow them to qualify for diplomas despite not meeting typical coursework and attendance requirements.

Columns with an asterisk or 'N' indicate there was no data or it was suppressed to protect student privacy.

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