New program aims to increase diversity in teacher workforce

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Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis
Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis

One of my primary goals as commissioner of education is to ensure every public school student in Kentucky has a highly-qualified and effective teacher. There is no greater education equity issue in Kentucky.

As we continue to build our teacher workforce around effectiveness, we also must be attuned to building a workforce that is more reflective of the incredible diversity of Kentucky students and communities. A more diverse workforce is a stronger teacher workforce.

When I talk about diversity, I’m not just talking about race. We need more teachers with disabilities in our classrooms, as well as teachers whose primary language is something other than English.

Children benefit when they see a teacher at the front of the classroom that looks like them. These teachers can serve as role models for students and can help erode destructive stereotypes in our society that often serve to limit the roles people of color and people with disabilities feel they can play in life.

According to one study published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, having one African American teacher during elementary school cuts the rate at which African American males drop out of high school by 39 percent. And a 2016 study published in the Economics of Education Review showed that an African American teacher’s expectations for his or her African American students is 30-40 percent higher than a teacher of another race.

It is important for us to recognize the state’s pressing need for a more diverse teacher workforce. That is why I was thrilled in late January to announce the new Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching (KAET), a renewable loan forgiveness program designed to identify, support and prepare a more diverse teacher candidate pool. In partnership with educator preparation programs at both public and private universities, KAET experiences will prepare candidates for the diverse Kentucky schools and communities where they will serve.

Through the program, KAET participants will receive financial support and complete an Education Professional Standards Board-approved teacher education program in conjunction with ongoing mentorship by experienced Kentucky educators. The program is funded by a $1 million per year allocation in the 2018 Kentucky state budget for educator quality and diversity through the teacher recruitment and retention program.

Undergraduate students enrolled in educator preparation programs can receive up to $5,000 per semester for up to four semesters over the course of three academic years, receiving no more than $20,000 total. Students in an initial certification master’s educator preparation programs are eligible to receive up to $2,500 per semester for up to four semesters over the course of three academic years, with a maximum $10,000 total award.

Participants of the program agree to teach one semester for each semester or summer term funded by a KAET loan in one of Kentucky’s 1,200 public schools. If the students don’t end up teaching in a public school in Kentucky, the amount they received through KAET will be converted into a loan.

Applicants must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be a member of an underrepresented ethnic minority group;
  • Be a graduate of Kentucky School for the Blind or Kentucky School for the Deaf;
  • Be a former migratory agricultural worker or the child of a migratory agricultural worker, or current or former English learner;
  • Be a first-generation college student; or
  • Be a U.S. military veteran.

KAET is the right program at the right time because it targets the kinds of teachers that are in short supply in Kentucky. It is a program that will help the Commonwealth recruit and retain the kind of teaching workforce that will improve education for all of our students.

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