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Sen. Schumer: Untapped Federal Programs are Exacerbating Serious Teacher Shortage

Scott Willis
WAER-FM 88.3

School is back in session across Central New York, but many districts here, across the state, and nationwide are facing a serious teacher shortage.  Senator Chuck Schumer stopped at Pine Grove Middle School in East Syracuse Friday to explain why. 

He told a lobby full of district officials that a federal college loan forgiveness program for people who go into public service is not being used.

"The group we had in mind when we passed this legislation was teachers.  But the secretary of education has so constricted this program that only one percent of the people eligible get the prorgram.  We allocated $3.5 billion for it, and that money is just sitting there."

That $3.5 billion is spread over five years.  Schumer says they recently set aside $700 million to expand the program, but only $27 million has been spent.  Schumer is working on legislation to force the spending of the money in an effort to attract more potential teachers and curb the shortage.  One of those who took advantage of the program a few years ago is Ines  Tamilia, who teaches English as a New Language in the East Syracuse Minoa district. 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER-FM 88.3
ENL teacher Ines Tamilia says she's drowning in college debt, but the loan forgiveness/repayment program gives her flexibility to plan for her family's future.

"The reason I'm able to pay my bills and look forward to my life in three years is because I'm able to eventually get a new car, get a new house,be able to afford all those things, and afford daycare for my children."

Without the loan forgiveness program, Schumer says those considering a teaching career might opt to take a better-paying, but less fulfilling job in the private sector.  A report from New York State United Teachers shows New York State will need to hire an average of 14,000 teachers per year to keep up with demand, even as student enrollment shrinks. 

The same report shows enrollment is also shrinking in teacher education the tune of 47 percent in the last ten years.  

Schumer also wants to maintain the Title II grant program, which is used by school districts to recruit and retain teachers by offering professional development.  Forty percent of teachers leave the profession in the first five years.  Schumer says with Title II, that number drops dramatically.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER-FM 88.3
Administrators from several CNY school districts gathered to show support for teacher recruitment and retention programs.