Laid-off teachers will soon be able to collect unemployment benefits even while participating in specialized training under a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday.
SB 1291 by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, adds credential preparation or other teacher training programs in math, science and special education to the list of allowable activities under the state’s unemployment program – which generally does not allow its participants to attend school while receiving benefits. The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
“In order for California to remain competitive in meeting the educational needs of the future, California needs qualified teachers in high demand subjects,” Evans said in a statement following the governor’s announcement that he had signed the legislation. “Unaddressed, we perpetuate the existing teacher shortage of qualified educators in high demand subjects. That means California’s workforce will not be competitive in math or science nationally and internationally, and that’s not where California needs to be to recover from this recession.”
The requirement that unemployed teachers be seeking additional certification in mathematics, science or special education coincides with a state and national push to increase the number and quality of educators in those fields. Recent changes in California law have opened up alternative routes to teacher credentialing by establishing the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Career Technical Education Educator Credentialing Program.
Under current law, if a laid-off teacher enrolls in one of these courses, they risk losing their unemployment benefits.Current law also provides for the California Training Benefits program, which allows eligible unemployed individuals, who may lack competitive job skills needed to find stable employment, to receive benefits while attending training or retraining programs. However, retraining teachers for additional certification in specified fields is not currently listed as an allowable activity for purposes of qualifying for unemployment benefits.
The ongoing fiscal crisis has required school districts across the state to issue thousands of pink-slips each year to teachers. Last year 11,848 certified teachers were laid-off and this year nearly 20,000 pink slips were issued. This bill creates job opportunities by expanding available training for motivated teachers who wish to stay in the teaching profession by providing a safety net while they continue their needed education, Evans said in her statement.
According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the demand for mathematics and science teachers is expected to increase by 33,000 by 2017.
California is currently ranked 50th of 50 states in staff to student ratios for these in-demand subject areas, according to Evans.