Program that trains teachers for hard-to-fill slots faces big cut

With hundreds of students in low-performing districts already being taught by a revolving door of substitute teachers because schools cannot find enough qualified teachers, the state’s largest producer of teachers in high-need subject areas might have to close its summer program.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is recommending eliminating all state funding for the Alternate Route to Certification’s summer program – offered to mid-career professionals seeking to be trained as teachers. Although the program also has tuition revenue, the state cuts would inevitably lead to closing the summer program, officials said.

The program is also offered in the fall, and that would continue.

The cuts “will certainly cut people out of the program,” Jane Ciarleglio, the executive director of Connecticut’s Office of Higher Education, told members of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee Monday.

Students are taught a lesson in a class for English Language Learners at East Hartford Middle School

Students in a class for English Language Learners at East Hartford Middle School

Superintendents and principals from low-achieving school districts have been taking turns in recent weeks testifying in a school-funding trial about the constant struggle they face finding enough math, science, bilingual and special education teachers.

“It’s making a bad situation worse,” William Thompson, the principal of New London High School, testified.

“Frankly, [students] are not, I believe, receiving the same quality instruction they would receive from a certified teacher,” Frances Rabinowitz, Bridgeport’s interim superintendent, testified.

The Alternate Route to Certification program helps fill major voids that the State Department of Education has labeled “critical shortage areas.” About half of newly certified foreign language and science teachers come from the ARC program, as well as almost all of the bilingual education teachers, state data show.

The ARC program has historically educated one-third of all newly certified middle and high school math teachers, even though there are many larger teacher preparation programs.

study completed by legislative staff in 2009 found that many colleges are not aligning their programs with the jobs that actually need to be filled.

Click to read The Mirror's coverage

Click to read The Mirror’s coverage

Rep. Roberta Willis, the House chair of the legislative committee that oversees higher education, said the program is critical.

“It’s important to point out that this program has been very successful,” Willis, D-Salisbury, told officials from the Office of Higher Education Monday.

But some legislators aren’t convinced this program deserves state funding at a time when the state is facing a deficit.

“We should not be running programs if we cannot afford to cover the costs,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam. “Consideration should be given to raising tuition to cover the actual costs of the program.”

Tuition for the program is currently $4,200, an amount that has increased each year as state support has been cut.

The State Department of Education is well aware of the shortfall in available teachers, especially in the state’s 30 lowest-performing districts.

“Connecticut continues to experience challenges attracting qualified and certified educators in certain subject areas …,” a bulletin from the State Department of Education released earlier this month said. The department said it would continue to use several strategies to fill the needs, including providing training to districts to help them retain teachers in these areas and using federal funds to help future teachers with financial aid.

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