At Rowan’s Camden campus, Booker, Norcross outline legislation to address teacher shortages

At Rowan’s Camden campus, Booker, Norcross outline legislation to address teacher shortages

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Senator Cory Booker discusses the STRIVE Act at an event at Rowan's Camden Academic Center. Joining him are (seated, from left) Camden Mayor Francisco "Frank" Moran and Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand.

Joined by educational leaders at Rowan University and throughout the state, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Congressman Donald Norcross outlined the STRIVE Act, legislation they’ve introduced to address teacher shortages, during an event at the University’s Camden Academic Building on Thursday, March 29.

Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand, College of Education Dean Monika Williams Shealey, NJEA Associate Director of Government Relations Sean Hadley, AFT Local 2373 Vice President II Amy Woodworth, Camden Mayor Francisco “Frank” Moran, and Rowan education major Marcus King joined Booker and Norcross in voicing support for the STRIVE Act during the event. 

An acronym that stands for Supporting the Teaching Profession Through Revitalizing Investments in Valuable Educators, the STRIVE Act is led by Booker in the Senate and Norcross in the House. It includes several provisions to help address teacher shortages in New Jersey, including increased investments in teacher preparation programs and financial assistance to encourage diversity in the teaching profession.
 
According to the legislators, the act would:

-    Mandatorily fund and increase funding for programs that prepare and train educators to be their most effective, while allowing early childhood educators to participate in the program;

-    Overhaul the current loan forgiveness program for teachers in Title I schools to provide incremental and complete loan forgiveness to teachers that teach for seven years while “grandfathering in” teachers that have taught longer but are still paying student loans;

-    Encourage diversity in the teaching profession by providing financial assistance for teaching certification and licensing fees to low-income and other underrepresented communities; and

-    Increase the teacher tax credit from $250 to $500 and to $1,500 in the case of an eligible educator teaching in a high need school.
 
In discussing the bill, speakers noted that approximately 17 percent of teachers leave the profession after five years. The most significant impact of that happens in high-poverty, high-minority schools, which often have difficulty in hiring and face high turnover partly because of inequitable school funding and inadequate resources.
 
Other countries understand that the more you support teachers, the more the nation succeeds, Booker said, noting that enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped by a third nationally.
 
“The most critical thing we can do right now is empower teachers,” the senator said. “Teachers are pillars of our communities.”
 
“The STRIVE Act means peace of mind for educators across the country and will encourage our best and brightest teachers to serve in high-needs areas, so all our kids can benefit from a great education,” said Norcross, adding  that the bill “reinforces what we as a nation believe in—educators and teachers.”
 
Houshmand said passage of the bill would chart the future of America. He added that schools around the nation especially need STEM educators from underrepresented populations.
 
Through numerous programs, Rowan’s College of Education is working to address those issues, noted Shealey, a former special education teacher. The College of Education has educated teachers and educational leaders for more than 90 years.
 
On average, teachers spend $600 annually out of their own pockets on classroom supplies, clothing and even food for their students, according to Booker. The legislation’s proposed tax breaks for teachers would help address that, the senator added.
 
“This issue is personal to me,” Shealey said. “I was one of those teachers who paid for supplies, who took kids to after-school programs, and bought meals. The STRIVE Act is rooted in policies that work.”
 
King, a sophomore health and physical education major, is a member of the inaugural class of Rowan’s Project IMPACT (Increasing Male Practitioners and Classroom Teachers), a recruitment and retention program for diverse males pursuing careers in education.
 
Passage of the legislation “would make the path for aspiring teachers like me a little easier,” King said.
 
“Higher education is expensive and if we want people to move into this profession, we need to make the salary better when teachers graduate. We should not be starting our careers with a lot of debt.”
 
Even with the challenges teachers face, King said he’s anxious to get into the classroom. He was mentored, he said, by many teachers and coaches from kindergarten through to his years at Rowan.
 
“My teachers pushed me and believed in me,” King said. “My goal as I pursue teacher leadership is to help future generations of students find their passion as they create their own journey through life.”