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Some CT apprentice teachers could ‘learn while they earn’ under new effort to recruit school staff

Isaias Rodriguez Sanchez, a sophomore at New Britain High School and participant in the Educators Rising teacher training program, speaks at a press conference in Hartford on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
Chris Polansky
Connecticut Public
Isaias Rodriguez Sanchez, a sophomore at New Britain High School and participant in the Educators Rising teacher training program, speaks at a press conference in Hartford on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced $3 million in funding for programs meant to increase staffing levels in Connecticut schools, amid thousands of teaching vacancies across the state.

“We have about 1,700 more teachers today than we had a year ago,” Lamont said at a press conference in Hartford on Tuesday. “We have a shortfall, still. We still have a way to go.”

According to Lamont’s office, districts statewide reported about 1,300 teacher vacancies and 1,300 paraeducator vacancies as of March 2023, with the majority of vacancies in the areas of math, special education and science.

The $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, which will be co-administered by the state labor and education departments, is meant to launch a teacher apprenticeship program; expand the Educators Rising program, which trains and recruits high school students interested in becoming teachers; and stand up a recruitment campaign for educators and paraeducators.

Flanked by educators, students, state lawmakers, his education and labor commissioners, and others, the governor said the funding was his administration’s latest investment in combating teacher shortages in some districts around the state.

Connecticut Labor Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo said the apprenticeship program would reduce the financial burden involved in training to become a teacher.

“Rather than having a student-teacher pay for the opportunity to student-teach – and sometimes not have an opportunity to be working and earning money – this means that this student-teacher is an employee from day one, they are an employee of the school district from day one,” Bartolomeo said. “Rather than ‘train and pray,’ which is what you often have to do, now we are going to support you by paying you while you’re training,” Bartolomeo said.

Dr. Paula Talty, associate dean of the Central Connecticut State University School of Education and Professional Studies, said many prospective teachers want to return to the school systems they themselves attended.

“This apprenticeship program will enable these students to not only complete their education in the districts that they are committed to, but also to earn while they learn,” Talty said.

The apprentice program will be launched as a pilot in Waterbury and New Britain with the goal of ultimately expanding statewide, the governor’s office said.

The money would also expand the state’s Educators Rising program, which prepares high school students for a future teaching career in their home districts, to an additional 18 districts, up from 15. Waterbury Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin said the expanded funding was "a dream come true" and that the program had been a boon for her district and its students interested in pursuing education careers.

“This opens up another world of opportunity for them,” Ruffin said. " “Because if they aspire to be teachers, they now can remain in Waterbury, they can continue to go to school, and we can continue to invest in training and preparing the future educators that we so desperately need.”

Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said the efforts would continue to build on existing momentum in staffing levels and diversification.

“We’ve invested, since 2020, over $20 million toward this work and this effort and this investment continues today,” Russell-Tucker said.

“We’re moving the needle,” Russell-Tucker said. “Since 2015-16, when we had 8.3% educators of color, we’re now 11%, with over 6,000 educators of color in our state.” According to data provided by the governor’s office, school staffing levels have increased by more than 4,000 workers, or 4%, since the 2021-22 school year.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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