By Corinne Murdock |
On Tuesday, House Democrats attempted to kill a Republican-introduced bill to address the teacher shortage.
The bill, HB2428, would allow private universities and colleges to participate in and receive funding from the Arizona Teachers Academy (ATA). Reimbursements for academy scholarships would be capped at the average in-state tuition and fees determined by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR): currently, about $7,100. The four Democratic members of the House Education Committee opposed the bill.
The bill sponsor, State Rep. Matt Gress (R-LD04), said that there are thousands of students seeking an educational degree currently, noting approximately 3,000 qualified students at Grand Canyon University alone. Gress cited data that approximately 80 percent of these types of students go on to teach in public schools, but not necessarily in Arizona. Gress argued that they should be pulled into Arizona ones.
“It represents a state commitment to addressing our teacher workforce shortage,” said Gress.
ATA helps pay for tuition and fees for state university or community college students, with the contingency that these students commit to one year of teaching in an Arizona public school.
Over 3,300 individuals were enrolled in the ATA last year, the largest class since its creation in 2017 under former Gov. Doug Ducey. Enrollment for the past five years totaled nearly 9,300. Scholarships totaled $22.7 million, averaging $7,100 each. Gress’ proposed expansion of the ATA to private institutions may cost an additional $17 million. The ATA funds student-teachers across 16 different graduate and undergraduate programs.
The teacher shortage may soon worsen: over 20,000 teachers qualified for retirement last year, according to the Arizona State Retirement System.
Committee Democrats admitted that the state’s ongoing teacher shortage is urgent. However, they disagreed that public dollars should go into private institutions.
State Rep. Judy Schwiebert (D-LD02) said the state should prioritize public institution students over private ones. She expressed concern that expanding ATA eligibility would disrupt the current waitlist of public university students.
“I feel like our priority needs to be with our public schools that need to be held accountable, and if they’re going to be accountable we need to make sure that we’re providing the funding for them to be able to train as many teachers as they have applications for, and right now they don’t,” said Schwiebert. “We need to make it a priority to further invest in our institutions before we send any money, or if we even should send any money to a private institution that doesn’t require any accountability from the state.”
State Rep. Nancy Gutierrez (D-LD18) concurred, arguing that it wasn’t appropriate to use public funds for private institutions. Gutierrez said the teacher shortage wasn’t due to a lack of accessibility to programs like ATA, it was teachers enduring purportedly low pay and disrespect.
State Rep. Laura Terech (D-LD04) said she didn’t believe this bill was a long-term solution for the shortage.
“I have a fundamental problem with sending public money to private institutions,” said Terech.