Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) wants to offer low-interest mortgages to teachers who buy homes in their school districts, as a recruitment and retention incentive at a time of growing teacher shortages.
Aides to the governor emphasized yesterday that the proposal is not official yet, because they are still exploring some possible legal or tax hurdles to the program. But state officials already have sold $25 million in bonds to make the loan money available. If such a program is created, they said, they could offer a first round of loans to 200 to 300 teachers hired next year.
"We want a commitment that they'll stay, and a commitment to the community" they teach in, said Glendening's spokesman, Mike Morrill.
A robust economy and wave of baby-boomer retirements have created a record number of job openings in Washington area school systems and boosted competition for teachers. The shortage of math and science instructors is particularly acute, because many teaching candidates have been lured away by higher-paying jobs in booming technology fields.
While districts across the country have offered signing bonuses and preserved retired teachers' pensions to lure them back into classrooms, the proposed loan program would place Maryland among the first in the country to sweeten the offerings with such an incentive.
State officials cite the importance of competitive salaries and compensation since public schools anticipate having to hire 11,000 teachers by 2001, though Maryland teacher colleges produce only about 2,500 new teachers a year.
Glendening spoke about the housing loans yesterday during a meeting at which state and local school officials discussed solutions to the growing teacher shortage. State officials noted some steps already taken to address the shortage. Last spring, the General Assembly approved a new scholarship for students who promise to teach in Maryland and a $25 million package of signing bonuses, stipends and mentoring programs for new hires.
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick is asking the governor and the legislature for an additional $15 million to provide almost all new teachers with a mentor to help them during the crucial first years, when many newcomers quit. She also is urging an expansion of alternative licensing to open the door to more young college graduates or career switchers with no formal background in education.
But Glendening said yesterday that "we are not doing enough" to attract highly qualified people into the teaching profession, which he said is crucial to preparing children for an increasingly competitive work force.
His housing loan proposal was the only new one offered by state officials yesterday. Some other districts have made similar offers. Mississippi legislators passed a bill last spring to offer low-interest loans to help teachers build homes in rural, low-income school districts. Baltimore offers new teachers $5,000 toward a down payment on a house in the city.
Glendening's plan would build upon a federal program that allows states to sell bonds to offer low-interest loans to first-time middle-income home buyers, or to people buying homes in low-income neighborhoods. The teachers would have to buy homes within the enrollment area of the schools where they work.
Morrill said the governor's staff is uncertain whether federal regulations would allow them to require teachers who receive such mortgage loans to live within a certain area. Also, state officials are exploring whether they can require recipients to stay in their teaching jobs--or if they can rescind the low-interest rates extended to teachers who leave the schools.
Morrill said if the initial loan offers are a success, the state would consider selling more bonds to offer more loans.
The proposal was warmly received by state and local schools officials at the meeting. Mildred Hudson, acting chief executive officer for Recruiting New Teachers, a Massachusetts think tank, said such loans are "short-term measures."
She said school districts need to focus on longer-term efforts, such as helping classroom aides gain their full teaching credentials, and making classroom jobs more rewarding careers.
CAPTION: Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick seeks money to provide mentors for new teachers.