Gov. Jack Markell continued the state's efforts to put quality teachers in Delaware classrooms, signing two pieces of legislation extending successful teacher recruitment initiatives.
SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Dave Sokola and Rep. Terry Schooley, gives school districts confidence to offer jobs earlier in the year to quality teachers, extending the program another two years. HB 239, also sponsored by Rep. Schooley and Sen. Sokola, extends for three years the state's authorization in the Teach For America program, offering incentives to place some of the country's brightest college graduates in the toughest schools.
"We're fully committed to making our public schools stronger. The most important factor in great schools is great teachers," Gov. Markell said. "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is in town tomorrow to take a hard look at how our state is doing in the two years since we won Race to the Top. These bills are further evidence that when it comes to recruiting top talent, we are serious."
Estimated unit count: As a result of a Teacher Hiring Task Force created by Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Sen. Sokola, legislation signed into law in 2011 allowed Delaware to become competitive with surrounding states in hiring teachers earlier in the year than previously allowed because of the state unit counts.
While the official unit count used to authorize state funding for teachers does not occur until fall, SB 164 extends an "estimated unit count' for the state's school districts in April of each school year, with school districts guaranteed to receive at least 98 percent of the funds for paying teachers calculated at that earlier point. This estimated unit count allows school districts to have greater confidence in the amount of state funding that they will receive to pay new teachers, and therefore extend earlier hiring offers.
A state Department of Education report on the estimated unit count said that 460 new teachers were hired earlier in 2011 than they would have been otherwise. With regards to its accuracy, the estimated unit count on May 10, 2011 was 8359 and the actual count on September 30, 2011 was 8403.55.
"I am proud to have played a role in this process," Lt. Governor Denn said of SB 164. "The two-year extension is really going to make a difference in our schools. Hiring teachers as early as possible means they are integrated into the school team, can get their classrooms set up and start focusing on the job of educating instead of waiting on a job in education."
Teach for America: In April 2009, the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed legislation establishing the Teach for America program in Delaware. TFA is an alternative route to teacher certification program that takes top performing college graduates and places them in challenging schools for two years in return for help with their loans or future education. Some research has shown that Teach for America teachers can have a positive effect on student performance.
Since 2009, there have been more than 60 Teach for America teachers placed in Delaware schools, contributing to the education of approximately 3,000 students. Currently, there are 46 TFA teachers working in 18 Delaware schools in three districts and six charter schools.
HB 239 extends TFA authorization in Delaware for another three years, keeping TFA available as a path towards teaching.
"Delaware has a lot of reasons to be proud of the hard work being done by our public school teachers," said Sen. Sokola, who chairs the Senate education committee and sponsored both the original early recruiting bill and the extension. "Extending both of these bills makes a lot of sense because it gives us a chance to better evaluate how they're doing at helping our school seek out and recruit the best teaching talent."
"These bills give us a couple more tools in the toolbox as we deal with education reform in attracting more young, dedicated people into the field of education," said Rep. Schooley, who chairs the House Education Committee. "The sunset on the TFA bill allows us to do more analysis on the long-term viability of the program."