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Group wants more minority teachers

| Tuesday, April 19, 2005

With few minority teachers graduating from Pennsylvania colleges, an advocacy group called Monday for state-mandated scholarships to provide teachers for hard-to-staff schools.

Pennsylvania ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- wants to recruit paraprofessionals already working in low-income and other hard-to-staff schools by paying for their educations.

"They are people who are committed to our children and our schools, and we feel they deserve the opportunity," said Celeste Taylor, ACORN policy director.

The goal is to hire 1,000 minority teachers for those schools statewide by 2016 and retain them for seven years.

The nonprofit organization representing low- and moderate-income families calls for the "Grow Your Own" program to be funded by "federal, state, foundations or other sources" and be paid up-front, with loans canceled if the recipient teaches for five years.

The proposal follows an ACORN report which shows blacks accounted for only 4.3 percent to 5 percent of education graduates statewide during the past three years.

In Pittsburgh Public Schools, blacks make up 59 percent of the students and about 20 percent of the faculty, according to district officials. Statewide, 11 percent of students are minorities, while 85 percent of Philadelphia students are, according to ACORN.

ACORN cites a recent study which found that teachers prefer to work close to where they grew up.

Sherman Shrager, vice president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said he does not know the details of the proposed "Grow Your Own" program but supports the concept.

Pittsburgh Public Schools and Indiana University of Pennsylvania had a partnership providing scholarships for paraprofessionals to become teachers that was disbanded several years ago, he said.

Districts must provide better working conditions and salaries to attract minorities to teaching instead of other careers, Shrager said.

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