Newswise — The California State University prepares more than half of the state's K-12 educators—more than any other institution. But it's still not enough.

To help address the ongoing teacher shortage, the CSU is now participating in an innovative state program that gives employees who are already working at schools the chance to become a credentialed teacher.

Called the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, adults who work in an after-school program, school cafeteria, or who work as teaching assistants and bus drivers, among other roles, can apply for a grant that will enable them to complete their undergraduate education and prepare them to become a credentialed teacher in California.

Wanted: More Diverse Teachers

"What's really important about this program is that it may result in teachers who reflect the diversity of people who live in their community," says Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor of Educator Preparation and Public Schools Programs at the CSU Chancellor's Office, in Long Beach. "There's much research that shows the importance of having a diverse teacher workforce that reflects a school's community." 

For example, a 2017 study from Johns Hopkins University of under-resourced black students in North Carolina showed that children who had at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades were less likely to drop out of school and were more likely to express interest in going to college.

The lack of educators is a significant problem. In a survey of 25 California school districts, 80 percent reported a shortage of qualified teachers, according to 2017 findings from the Learning Policy Institute. "Bilingual education, special education, and math and science teachers—these are all high shortage areas," notes Dr. Grenot-Scheyer. 

A Dream No Longer Delayed

The state legislature approved $20 million for the credentialing program in 2016 and another $25 million in 2017. The money goes to school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools, who then coordinate applications from their employees. 

Grants cover $4,000 per person for books, fees and tuition for up to five years and classes are scheduled at hours that accommodate working adults and are held at local school district buildings. They are taught by professors from CSU campuses and other universities around the state.

Most of the first group of 968 classified employees who enrolled in the program won't graduate until 2019. (The second round of funding supports another 1,250 employees.) But among these adult students enthusiasm is high for a future that has suddenly opened up.

An August 2018 story in the Sacramento Bee featured Amy Dunzweiler, a California State University, Sacramento graduate who worked in the Elk Grove Unified School District as an after-school worker, but could not afford to continue her education.

Duzweiler jumped at the opportunity to reach her dream of becoming a credentialed teacher and was accepted into the program. She's now on track to becoming a special education teacher. "I don't have to take out a student loan," she told The Sacramento Bee. "That was the biggest hurdle to going back to school. I couldn't afford to do that on my own." 

Learn more about Classified School Employee Pathways to becoming a teacher.