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Prospective Teachers in Arizona to Get Free Tuition. But Will It Help Shortages?

Yesterday Gov. Doug Ducey announced a program that offers prospective teachers in Arizona a year of free tuition for every year they commit to teaching in the state

The effort, which will run at the state's three public universities, is aimed at curbing Arizona's teacher shortages, reports the Arizona Daily Star. The program will fund 230 prospective teachers during its first year.

About 18 percent of the state's teaching positions remain unfilled a month into the school year, according to a report released today by an Arizona school personnel group.

The governor also signed legislation this spring easing some of the requirements for becoming a teacher, citing teacher shortages then as well. Under the controversial law, people with five years of experience in fields "relevant" to the subject area they plan to teach can now enter the classroom without formal training. 

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said in an interview that the new teacher academy is "a flashy program and great for the tiny number of people it impacts, but it doesn't get at underlying problems" in the state. Those include what he called the "double gut punch" of low teacher pay and high class sizes.

The Arizona school personnel report shows that more than 500 teachers have either abandoned or resigned from their positions since the school year began four weeks ago. And a survey released this week by WalletHub, which looked at 21 indicators of teacher-friendliness including pay, called Arizona the worst state in the country to be a teacher

The academy "does nothing for the tens of thousands of teachers that are currently in the classroom and have been in the classroom since pay freezes and cuts to the budget," Thomas said. "They've been loyal to Arizona and are getting nothing out of it."

Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, has pushed for a sales-tax increase to fund an 11 percent teacher salary hike. The governor, who Douglas has clashed with before, has opposed raising taxes.

Last year's budget included a 1 percent salary increase for teachers, with the same amount promised for next year. Thomas called that increase "abysmal."

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