Alabama lawmakers and educators are working on a plan to attract more qualified teachers in math and science, an effort to fix a shortage of teachers trained to teach those subjects.
The Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Mathematics and Science (TEAMS) program would create a new pay scale for math and science teachers in grades 6-12 starting next school year. They could earn as much as about $16,000 more than teachers of other subjects with the same levels of experience and education.
The Senate approved the plan Thursday, along with a record $7.7 billion education budget for fiscal year 2022, which starts Oct. 1. The Senate approved start-up funding for TEAMS of $100 million.
The legislation moves to the House of Representatives, which could consider it after lawmakers return from spring break on March 30.
“I think this will have a tremendously positive impact on our state,” Senate education budget committee chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said.
Officials say Alabama has about 7,500 math and science teaching positions in grades 6-12, but about 3,000 of those are filled by teachers who are not certified in those subjects.
Orr said he and House education budget committee chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, had talked about coming up with a plan for additional pay for math and science teachers and then learned a few weeks ago that the State Department of Education had developed one.
The TEAMS bill, by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, says math, science, and computer science teachers in grades 6-12 could apply to their local boards of education to participate in TEAMS. If accepted, they would work under a TEAMS contract and would receive a salary set by a TEAMS pay scale, not by the state salary matrix used for other teachers.
That salary matrix sets pay according to years of experience and academic degrees. The difference between the TEAMS scale and the regular salary matrix is about $3,000 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experienced but quickly increases to about $10,000 with just a few years experience.
For example, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 12 years experience would have a state salary of $66,000 under TEAMS, compared to $50,000 under the regular matrix.
TEAMS teachers would have up to three years to earn a special certification to stay in the program. They could receive that from the National Institute for STEM Education or the National Board of Professional Teacher Standards.
TEAMS teachers could get another $5,000 salary increase by teaching in schools designated as hard-to-staff. The State Department of Education would designate those schools based on factors like high poverty rates or remote or sparsely populated locations.
There would be a tradeoff for the higher pay that comes with TEAMS. Teachers would give up tenure to work under a TEAMS contract. Tenure provides some job security for teachers after three years on the job.
Amy Marlowe, executive director of the Alabama Education Association, which represents teachers and other education employees, said the requirement to surrender tenure is a major flaw in what the AEA considers a bold innovation.
“We support the program,” Marlowe said. “We think it’s an exciting program and can really put Alabama on the map, not just in the southeast but throughout the nation in having an innovative math and science curriculum here in Alabama. But the devil’s in the details.”
Marlowe said experienced teachers will be reluctant to give up their tenure, partly because of the possibility that the program could fall out of favor with the Legislature. It will require annual funding.
“We want some of our most experienced math and science teachers who are out there to really jump in and take advantage of this program,” Marlowe said. “We think it will do good things for the state of Alabama. With the tenure language in there, they’re hesitant to do that. And I think that’s going to impede the success of the program.”
Chesteen, a former football coach and athletic director at Geneva High School, said the idea is that more accountability and higher expectations come with the increased pay under TEAMS, as the name of the program indicates. He said he understands that some teachers might be hesitant about giving up tenure.
“I don’t think a lot of teachers will jump on board with this early,” Chesteen said. “I think a lot of teachers will take a wait and see approach because tenure is something that a lot of teachers don’t like to give up. And we’re not looking at taking away tenure. We’re looking at this is an option, if they choose this path.
Chesteen said TEAMS will appeal to college students considering careers as math or science teachers.
“Hopefully we will be able to attract more teachers into the field,” he said.
The Senate added an amendment to allow a chance for TEAMS teachers to return to their regular status with tenure and give up the higher pay. Marlowe said that won’t help because it would be contingent on those teachers being rehired under regular contracts. She said the AEA will urge House members to change the bill and remove the requirement to give up tenure.
Marlowe said there is also a shortage of special education teachers that is more severe than the math and science teacher shortage. Chesteen’s bill says the State Department of Education could recommend adding other teaching categories to TEAMS.
Chesteen said a goal of the TEAMS legislation is to boost Alabama’s rock-bottom rankings in math in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“I think we’re going to be looking at any and everything we can do to raise our scores,” Chesteen said. “We’ve been at the bottom or near the bottom in math for years. I think this is going to give us a great opportunity to change that and make a difference.”
The education budget passed by the Senate calls for spending $7.7 billion from the Education Trust Fund, about $450 million more than this year.
In addition to the TEAMS program, the budget includes $30 million to increase step raises for teachers. Those are incremental raises based on years on the job. Orr said step raises are too low for teachers who are moving into the middle portion of their careers.
“The goal is to retain these educators who may begin a career in education and then perhaps they get burned out or they see very little financial payback for themselves and they end up leaving education,” Orr said. “So, we lose those experienced teachers after several years because they fall farther behind in the pay structure.”
Orr said he hopes lawmakers can continue to boost the amount of step raises.
The budget also includes a 2% cost-of-living raise for teachers and other public education workers in grades K-12 and community colleges.
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