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State senator describes idea to fill local teacher vacancies

Many of North Carolina’s rural counties struggle to attract and retain quality teachers, but State Sen. Tom McInnis believes he has a solution.

During a chamber breakfast event on Friday, McInnis, R-25, described details of a proposal that would provide teachers assistants a loan to take classes at night or during weekends. At the conclusion of the program, participants would receive a degree and be able to teach. Loans would be forgiven if the program participant teaches at a low-performing school for four years, McInnis said.

“I didn’t have enough horsepower up there, being a freshman, but I’m going to get enough horsepower and we’re going to work on this program,” said McInnis, who is nearing the end of his first term in the N.C. Senate.

McInnis, who lives in Richmond County, described his idea when answering a question by Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody, who said the county’s system has a shortage of teachers. Moody characterized the shortage as a crisis. Although a number of them aren’t full-time teaching jobs, the Rowan-Salisbury School System currently has 133 open positions, according to the North Carolina Public Schools Application System.

“We have vacancies in our school district that have been open for over two years,” Moody said. “And, we have talked to every school of education in North Carolina. The number of people who are entering the field have dwindled.”

Moody asked the legislators what they could do to help fill vacancies in school districts.

She initially asked her question to State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34. Brock said one solution might be to examine how districts take applications for teaching jobs. Some districts charge money for job applications, he said. He also suggested that some colleges aren’t putting enough focus on their education majors. Colleges are “spread too thin” — offering too many majors — he said.

McInnis chimed in after Brock finished, and began describing a bill he introduced last year call the “Teach for North Carolina Pilot Program.” The bill had a single sponsor — McInnis — and one co-spsonsor — Michael Lee, a Republican who represents New Hanover County.

According to the filed bill, only teachers assistants working in Richmond, Scotland and Anson counties could participate in the pilot program. However, McInnis during Friday’s legislative breakfast didn’t describe the program as being limited. He said each participating county would contribute 10 teachers assistants per year to the pilot program.

If his idea gathers enough support and eventually becomes law, teachers assistants would be able to take classes at local community colleges, he said.

The filed version of McInnis’ bill would provide a loan of $7,000 per year for four years. A total of $2,500 of the money would be considered a stipend.

For the loan to be forgiven, program participants would be required to teach eight years in a county that’s designated as one of North Carolina’s most distressed under the state’s tier system, according to McInnis’ bill. Teachers could also spend four years in any “D” or “F” school to have the loan forgiven.

The loan recipients may also be subjected to less stringent licensure requirements, according to McInnis’ bill. In order to ensure there’s an adequate number of qualified teachers in rural counties, McInnis’ proposal would modify teacher licensing requirements for those who have five years of “exemplary experience as teacher assistants” and an associate’s degree. The modifications would include either an exemption from a student teaching requirement or modifying the required minimum score on licensing tests.

“Folks, we’ve got to lift our public education system up and stop tearing it down,” McInnis said Friday.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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