Filling state's teacher gap

Incentives: Opposition from union ignores urgency to attract more teachers to classrooms.

April 08, 1999

MARYLAND schools soon will face a critical teacher shortage: While 2,500 new teachers graduate from state colleges each year, vacancies could be four times that by 2001. A package of incentives to draw more teachers into the classroom ought to be a legislative priority.

It was in the House of Delegates, where the Quality Teacher Incentive Act of 1999 passed by a whopping 108-20, with 60 co-sponsors. Will the Senate follow suit in the face of vocal opposition from the state teachers union?

Maryland badly needs a basic set of incentives to weather the coming storm. Up to half of Maryland's 49,000 teachers will be eligible for retirement in 2003, even as school enrollments are rising and the governor wants to cut class sizes. The state must find ways to make teaching more appealing.

The House-passed bill, championed by state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, would expand a key tutoring program for new teachers. It would provide tuition tax credits for teachers seeking advanced degrees, a yearly stipend for teachers gaining national certification, a $1,000 annual stipend for veteran teachers in schools deemed "at-risk" and a $3,000 signing bonus for top new teachers.

This measure dovetails nicely with the governor's $3,000 teacher scholarship bill. It would boost local incentive efforts under consideration. Baltimore City, for instance, is looking into subsidized housing for new teachers and an extra month's salary for all teachers. Such steps are necessary if Maryland is to compete with other states already offering large perks to lure teachers.

The union dislikes virtually every aspect of this bill. Its arguments don't hold up. The union favors a study commission, thus delaying any incentives for at least a year. That's a year we cannot afford to lose.

The two Senate committees considering this bill ought to give quick approval so the measure can reach the Senate floor promptly. There's no time to waste. The legislature ends its work Monday night. Our children need more and better teachers. Now.

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