Over the past few years, CU Boulder researchers have been working with state partners to understand and address the financial strain new teachers face when trying to enter the educator workforce and elevate teacher candidates’ voices.
Their work paid off in May when Governor Jared Polis signed first-of-its-kind legislation for Colorado, Removing Barriers To Educator Preparation (HB22-1220), that will support new teachers and create a student educator stipend program.
Advocates in Colorado Departments of Education and Higher Education and state representatives took teacher candidates’ lived experiences into consideration while weighing or advocating for the bill thanks to research from a CU Boulder School of Education research team led by Ashley Cartun, director of teacher education, and doctoral candidates, Lizz Bohl and Mary Beth Snow Balderas.
With support from a 2020 seed grant from the Women Investing in the School of Education (WISE) board, the researchers conducted surveys, interviews and focus groups with candidates in the more advanced stages of their teacher licensure programs to understand the financial challenges they experience. They also gathered candidates’ ideas for what could help remove those barriers.
“From our vantage points as teacher educators at CU, we were watching multiple students struggle with financial barriers to becoming a teacher,” said Snow Balderas, doctoral candidate in equity, bilingualism, and biliteracy. “Students’ struggles were often understandably kept private but had large implications for their trajectories as future teachers and for their wellbeing.”
Along with the director for diversity recruitment and retention, Krishna Pattisapu, the team presented their findings to the Colorado Commission of Higher Education, state representatives, and key state partners, which contributed to the sponsors’ introduction of the new proposed bill in early 2022.
Among other things, the research underscored a range of financial barriers for teacher education students, including:
- Tuition and living expenses,
- Expenses related to clinical practice (e.g. transportation to and from student teaching or practicum sites),
- Expenses related to licensure (e.g. exam fees),
- Reduced opportunities for paid employment (due to schedule constraints), and
- Difficulty or lack of knowledge about navigating bureaucracy in order to access resources.
Participants argued that financial strain is not only consequential in their individual lives, but for the teaching profession. For example:
- Many candidates participated in the study out of a desire to contribute toward collective action and advocate for change.
- Some candidates spoke of peers who left the programs due to financial barriers, and they tied some departures to lower levels of diversity in the profession.
- Some candidates also connected unpaid clinical practice to the low pay/status of teaching. In these interviews, the experience of financial strain was framed as “preparation for teaching.”
While each student’s story is individualized, the researchers posit these experiences are representative of new teachers’ experiences in Colorado and nationwide, and state legislators listened.
It is gratifying to know our research had an impact on decision-making, which will benefit the teacher workforce and, ultimately, their students." — Ashley Cartun, director of teacher education
The bipartisan legislation will create stipends for Pell-grant-eligible student teachers. Students who participate in 16-week academic residency may receive a $11,000 stipend, and students on a 32-week academic residency may receive a $22,000 stipend. The bill also includes support for licensure exams fees and loan forgiveness. These endeavors follow several other organizations advocating for paid teacher residencies nationally, such as Prepared to Teach.
CU Boulder researchers are encouraged by these efforts, and they are hopeful that the pilot program will become permanent in Colorado and reach more students over time. The team will be studying how the current bill impacts candidates and plans to share their upcoming findings with state and national stakeholders.
“One of our team’s key research goals was to elevate the experiences of teacher candidates and the barriers they face when they try to become teachers,” Cartun said. “Their experiences are representative of many students’ experiences across the state and nation, and we are thrilled that Colorado lawmakers heard their voices and took action.
“It is gratifying to know our research had an impact on decision-making, which will benefit the teacher workforce and, ultimately, their students.”
In addition, the findings are informing decisions in the School of Education’s teacher education program. The research affirmed the importance of investing in students and faculty-student relationships. Faculty are making extra efforts to design learning experiences with financial strain in mind and increase flexibility where possible to allow for students to work and take care of responsibilities outside of school and teaching.
“What we’ve learned about financial strain has become a lens through which we view teacher education,” said Bohl, doctoral candidate in teacher learning, research, and practice. “For example, one program adjusted start and end dates of field placements to allow for students to accumulate income for a few extra weeks to cover their expenses.
“There are everyday ways that we can better support teacher candidates in university classrooms, and it matters to our students.”