Booker bill aims to reverse growing teacher shortage

Michael Hill, Correspondent | February 2, 2018 | Education

A passion for teaching has kept Kristen Mazur in her third grade class and in the profession for 21 years.

“It’s not always easy, but I still love doing it,” said Mazur, who teaches at Clifton Public School 17.

On Friday, Mazur stood side by side with Rep. Bill Pascrell and Sen. Cory Booker as they rolled out a bill to reverse America’s growing teacher shortage. The lawmakers said 17 percent of teachers leave the classroom after five years and enrollment in teacher prep programs has fallen by 35 percent in five years.

“Every single profession in the United States of America owes their debt to our teachers, to our public schools. Every single innovation, every single new idea, the excitement and the energy that is America is first cultivated in classrooms like the one we’re in right now,” said Booker. “And so we should have a sense of national shame about the way we do not support the teaching profession.”

Booker calls his bill the STRIVE Act, or Supporting the Teaching Profession Through Revitalizing Investments in Valuable Educators.

Among the bill’s nine major points, it would improve professional development and loan forgiveness, increase education grants to boost enrollment, subsidize teacher certification and other fees to entice more minorities to teach, and increase the tax deduction for teachers who spend from their own wallets for supplies.

“If this passes, it will be the most comprehensive, furthest reaching bill to support, recruit and retain teachers in decades,” said Booker.

Pascrell, who taught for 12 years, is co-sponsoring the bill. He called teachers “The center of power in the United States of America.”

Mazur says she spends thousands of dollars out of her own pocket every school year on lesson material to make sure the students in her class get it.

“The school does provide us with things, but teachers know that we can always do more and do better. So we try to do better, and when we find lessons and activities that we want to use in our classroom that we feel will provide the most benefit for our children, we go out and we purchase those materials,” said Mazur.

The president of the NJEA says the bill shows the lawmakers understand the challenges of the teaching profession.

“This legislation will go far to address the student debt through student loan forgiveness through grants to attract more of a diverse population into our great profession, and also to expand it into preschool,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan.

The Center for American Progress says the bill addresses a major issue: teacher recruitment by creating partnerships between school districts and teacher prep programs.

“The idea is that a district is explaining to those schools of education exactly what they need in a teacher and what will help a teacher succeed and do well in their district, and then teachers are being prepared exactly in a way that’s tailored to those districts’ needs, and it’s a win-win for both programs,” said Lisette Partelow, director of strategic initiatives for K-12 education at the Center for American Progress.

Booker says the bill is to recognize that classroom teachers contribute more to the American economy than Wall Street executives.