Teachers are essential to improving student achievement, yet many districts struggle to recruit highly effective teachers and Tennesseans cite cost as a barrier to entering the profession. The Tennessee General Assembly is considering legislation in 2023 that would take positive steps toward strengthening the teacher pipeline by decreasing the financial burden for teacher candidates.

In SCORE’s 2023 State Of Education In Tennessee report, a key priority for the year ahead is to advance high-quality instruction by improving access to the teacher pipeline, and we are pleased to see two of our recommendations reflected in proposed legislation:

  • The Tennessee Future Teacher Scholarship Act (SB1220/HB0432) creates a last-dollar scholarship for prospective teachers that covers the cost of tuition and mandatory fees for junior and senior students who are enrolled in an educator preparation program (EPP) at a postsecondary institution in Tennessee. To be eligible, students must graduate from a Tennessee high school, be eligible for the HOPE scholarship, maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.75 while enrolled in the EPP, and agree to teach at least four years in a Tennessee public school and in a critical shortage area.
  • The Teacher Assessment Reimbursement Act (SB0556/HB0784) will reimburse Tennessee educators for the cost of a licensure assessment after earning a passing score.

When we look at the data relating to the teacher pipeline, it’s apparent that Tennessee must do more to ensure every student has access to a highly effective teacher.

  • The number of individuals completing educator preparation programs (EPPs) in Tennessee has declined by 40 percent since 2011.
  • Less than one-third of Tennessee’s future educators are receiving training in high-demand subject areas.
  • In May 2022, about 2,700 educator positions across the state were left vacant, filled by an individual on a permit with no formal teaching training, or filled by a licensed educator without the proper subject-area training and expertise. Over the last four years, the number of instructors teaching on an emergency credential increased from 561 to 1,955, yet fewer than 20 percent of these permit holders actually earned their license to teach permanently last year.

After engaging with students, educators, leaders, and other stakeholders, SCORE identified cost as a key barrier for many Tennesseans to enter the teaching profession. A recent EPP affordability study found that paying off existing student loans was the most cited concern for prospective teachers. In Tennessee, the average student debt for teachers attending public EPPs is more than $34,000 and the current statewide salary schedule for teachers starts at $40,000.

Even when a prospective teacher completes their EPP, they must earn a passing score on a required assessment to obtain a license. Each licensure assessment costs about $150, creating an additional financial barrier that may dissuade individuals from pursuing a teaching career. This may also impact current teachers who are looking to teach a new subject and must earn a passing score for an additional subject area.

Tennessee has a strong track record of supporting effective teaching, creating strong foundations through rigorous standards for teacher preparation and evaluation, as well as using innovative development strategies such as Grow Your Own programs and the state’s Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship. The state has also invested in increasing teacher salaries, with additional investments in the governor’s proposed budget this year. The legislation currently proposed will build on this foundation and help strengthen the teacher pipeline today.

The impact of teachers on student achievement is more critical than ever as we work to close the achievement gaps that widened during the pandemic. SCORE looks forward to working with the General Assembly, the Lee administration, and partners across the state as we continue to build Tennessee’s teaching profession and advance success for students.

Dr. Sharon Roberts is SCORE’s chief K-12 impact officer.