Arizona program that pays for students to become teachers gets an extra $15 million
PHOENIX — More money is going to the state program that gives scholarships to students studying to become teachers in Arizona after demand exceeded available funding this year.
Gov. Doug Ducey is allocating $15 million to the Arizona Teachers Academy. The funds are federal dollars that the state can decide how to spend.
In total, the program will now have $36 million on hand for this year.
“That will allow us to fund the waitlist of students who had applied for the program of which we would not have been able to facilitate but for this relief,” Fred Duval, chair-elect of the Arizona Board of Regents, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
He said between 500-600 students were on a waitlist for the ATA, which is offered at the three state universities and two community colleges.
Arizona State University alone had 370 students on its waitlist and had stopped taking new applications while Northern State University had to cancel its summer session.
“The other schools were prioritizing I think rationally those students who had already been admitted into the academy but not admitting any new students,” Duval said.
The ATA gives scholarships to students who commit to teaching in Arizona public schools for as many years as they received funding. Ducey launched it in 2017 to help ease the teacher shortage in Arizona.
Enrollment for the program has increased every year. This year’s class of about 3,300 students is the biggest one yet.
The program also pays for current teachers to get additional certifications.
“What this program seeks to do is to use Arizona talent, keep good Arizona teachers in the classroom for as long as possible and to make sure that every child that deserves a good education gets one – and it starts in the classroom and it starts with a good teacher,” Duval said.
Duval proposed the ATA while running for governor against Ducey in 2014.
He said the governor called him and said he really liked the idea and wanted to move forward with it. Duval said this shows the teacher shortage in Arizona “isn’t red or blue.”
“This is a critical need that really isn’t a partisan issue whatsoever,” he said.
A recent survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found nearly 27% of teacher positions remained open a few weeks into the new school year. That’s among the 130 school districts and charter schools that participated in the survey.
The association has been tracking the state’s teacher shortage since 2016. It’s twice-yearly surveys have found that about a quarter of teacher vacancies remained unfilled a month into each school year.
Duval said schools are “doing everything they can to find folks who will teach.” That includes hiring teachers who are pending certification as well as individuals hired from outside of the United States.
“These are all stopgap measures that school districts have to employ in order to make sure there’s somebody in the front of the classroom trying to teach some content,” Duval said.
He said the goal of the ATA is to help ease the statewide teacher shortage. And based on this year’s demand for the program, Duval said he projects next year’s budget request will likely be about $35 million, which he hopes the governor and state legislature will support that.
“We hope that the compelling need for and the success of this program will be such that regardless of who the new leaders are that they will embrace it,” he said.