Gov. Ned Lamont speaks about a new initiative to recruit more teachers. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

State officials announced Tuesday a $3 million initiative focused on the hiring and training of new teachers to help address Connecticut’s educator shortage, with nearly 3,000 vacancies reported recently in teacher and paraeducator roles.

The state’s education and labor departments unveiled a plan to create a new teacher Registered Apprentice Program, and expand existing efforts in recruitment, including investing in paraeducator job fairs and expanding high schools’ “grow-your-own” programs which work to mold current students into future teachers.

As of March, new data show school districts across the state reported around 1,300 teaching vacancies and another 1,300 paraeducator openings despite a 4% staffing increase, or the hiring of over 4,000 full-time staff members, last school year compared to the 2018-19 school year. 

“While we have made some gains recently in teacher hiring, there remains a shortage in many school districts and it is critically important that we maintain the talent pipeline necessary to address these challenges,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “The most important education reform is a great teacher in the classroom.”

Since 2015, Connecticut has seen an increase of educators of color from 8.3% to 11.2% of those working in schools. The hiring of over 1,600 educators of color throughout the last seven or so years however trails behind the increase of students of color in that time — a population that has grown by more than 7% and make up about 51.4% of the state’s student body.

Leaders from both the education and labor departments said they hope the apprentice program will not only eliminate financial barriers through an “earn as you learn” program, but also work toward more diversity in the field.

“Rather than having a student-teacher pay for the opportunity to student-teach, and sometimes not having an opportunity to be working and earning money, this means the student-teacher is an employee from day one,” said Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo. “There’s an opportunity for them to be hired on, to be paid for that, to be mentored during that, and it’s also an opportunity to have some standardized competencies for teaching throughout the system.”

The initiative will first create two pilot apprentice programs, with one in Waterbury and another in New Britain, and further expand existing efforts, including within the state’s current teacher residency programs and NextGen Educator program, which pairs Central Connecticut State University student-teachers with districts across the state.

“In April of 2022, we launched the Northeastern Reciprocity Policy that streamlines the process in Connecticut certification for educators who have a valid and active out-of-state certification in 11 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Since its inception, it has resulted in 478 new educators teaching in 122 districts in our state,” said Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker. “We also launched a Special Education Employment System … and since starting that we made 422 placements in districts. … We’ve invested, since 2020, over $20 million toward this work and this effort and this investment continues today with what we are launching.”

The apprentice programs are expected to start in the summer and the fall. Officials also expect to expand the program beyond Waterbury and New Britain within the next six months to other districts across the state.

Beyond the apprentice program, the initiative will also go toward a recruitment campaign to fill existing vacancies in the school system, 60% of which are located in the state’s Alliance Districts, or the lowest-performing districts, and mostly impact special education, math or science classes.

The campaign will work to expand paraeducator test sites, expand test preparation programs, create job fairs and host recruitment events with the American Job Centers

A news release from Lamont’s administration added that part of the $3 million investment will “provide seed funding to an additional 18 school districts across the state that are interested in starting an Educators Rising “grow-your-own” high school program, which exposes students to careers in education and feeds into teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education.”

“When it comes to respecting teachers, give them the support they need. That’s part of what these programs are… helping our teachers in the classroom, giving them a little bit of extra support — assistance — to give our kids a little bit of extra attention,” Lamont said. “What an extraordinary… effect it can [have]… to make it easier to become a teacher.”

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.