Earlier this year the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the education reform bill. The legislation allowed for creation of up to three charter schools in West Virginia, and that was the subject of intense debate.
The bill included pay raises for teachers and service workers, more support staff for schools, and additional funds for small or struggling counties.
The bill also had a provision that received very little attention—changes to the Underwood-Smith Scholarship and Loan Repayment program. The retooled program, now called the Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program, is designed to help fill teacher vacancies in West Virginia.
The state will award $10,000 per year scholarships to 25 students every year if those students meet certain criteria. Upon graduation, the individuals are required to teach for five years at West Virginia public schools in the fields of math, science, elementary education or special education.
To qualify the applicants must meet certain benchmarks on their ACT or SAT scores and have a cumulative high school grade point average of at least 3.25 on a 4.0 scale. Once in college, the student must maintain at least a “B” average.
The Underwood-Smith Scholarship is “stackable,” meaning the student can receive other financial aid, such as the Promise Scholarship or a Pell Grant, so these graduates have an opportunity to head into the working world with no student debt.
The scholarship is available to non-residents. That’s an important provision because it opens the search to tens of thousands of additional young people who may view teaching in an underserved area as a type of community service.
It’s important to note that those who receive the scholarship but fail to meet the teaching obligation will have to repay the money with interest.
The Higher Education Policy Commission said the website for the application process (www.TeachinWV.com) is now live. One of the first applications was from a student whose family moved to Ohio a few years ago because of her father’s job. She wants the opportunity to come back to West Virginia to teach.
Every year, West Virginia counties struggle to fill teaching slots in certain disciplines. Too often, instructors not certified in a subject end up teaching the class. This is particularly true in math, science, special ed and elementary education.
This revamped Underwood-Smith Scholarship Program is a smart way to attract future professionals to the classroom. Within four years, West Virginia should have 100 bright students in the pipeline to accept jobs in those hard-to-fill positions.