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Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Teacher scholarship bill passes committee but could leave current students out

Michael Stottlemyer, an aspiring teacher from Anderson, seems like the perfect candidate for a proposed scholarship Republican leaders hope will help encourage more people to consider teaching.

He got good grades, graduated in the top 20 percent of his high school class and spent time doing community service and other activities in high school.

There’s just one problem: He’s already in college.

Stottlemyer, a junior studying math at IUPUI, wants to be a teacher, and he’s paying for his education by himself, he told members of the House Education Committee today. But because a program outlined in bill by House Speaker Brian Bosma would only apply to students graduating this year or later, Stottlemyer said he won’t be able to qualify.

“I would do anything to have the scholarship for my last two years and not have to worry about applying for another student loan,” Stottlemyer said. “I have personally met all of the requirements for this potential scholarship fund except for the requirement that I graduate (from high school) before June of 2016.”

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, authored House Bill 1002 to attract top students from across the state to a career in teaching. With some Indiana schools having problems hiring teachers in subjects such as math, science and special education, the bill would give students scholarships of up to $7,500 a year for four years of public or private college tuition at a state college in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. The bill passed the House Education Committee today 13-0.

Committee members were sympathetic to current college students like Stottlemyer, but they might not be able to help. Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the state won’t have the funding for the scholarship until lawmakers approve a new budget next year.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who voted in favor of the bill, said he was concerned current students will be left out and that too many Indiana classrooms will have to wait too long for a qualified teacher.

“This is a four-year fix,” Smith said. “What if someone is already in school and wants to switch to teaching? … The need is now.”

Bosma said he’d look for a way to support current teaching students. He might be able to amend the bill, he said, so that some older students like Stottlemyer could qualify for a one- or two-year scholarship once the program gets funding.

“We will pursue the issue about the existing students,” Bosma said. “If it looks like that could work timing-wise, we will bring an amendment.”

The bill received widespread support today from lawmakers and representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association, private school organizations and other education advocacy groups. But some education advocates, such as Ashley Gibson from the group Stand for Children, said it should go further to make sure it helps the districts that need it the most.

Bosma’s bill has no provision saying the new teachers would have to teach in districts that are actually struggling to fill jobs. Typically, schools in rural and high-poverty urban areas have the hardest time finding qualified teachers.

“Stand would definitely support some sort of district trigger for teacher candidate recruitment needs,” Gibson told lawmakers.

The Speaker said changing the bill to steer scholarship recipients to certain areas isn’t necessary because the state has other programs to recruit minority teachers and attract teachers to hard-to-fill jobs.

“We do have programs for those other issues,” Bosma said.

The bill originally came from talks between Bosma and Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, who proposed a similar idea last year. Hendry today said he supported the bill.

The goal would be to have the program begin next year with 200 students at a cost of about $1.5 million, Bosma said. When the program eventually grows to 800 students, the cost would be about $6 million per year. For the first four years, the state would pay about $15.2 million to support the scholarships.

“This is certainly no silver bullet,” Bosma said. “this is one of many, I think, good ideas to attract our best and brightest.”

The committee will pick up with hearings on two other bills that are designed to address teacher hiring as well as a chance to amend and vote on House Bill 1395, the ISTEP exam rescore bill, on Monday.

One bill lawmakers will finish hearing at Monday’s meeting, House Bill 1004, sponsored by Behning, would allow qualified teachers with licenses from other states transfer those licenses to Indiana if they meet certain GPA and testing requirements. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.

The other bill, House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also make it possible for teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” to still qualify for salary raises.