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Incentive for a teaching career; Md. scholarship: Luring students to teacher ranks will require aggressive steps from governments.


MARYLAND faces a growing shortage of qualified teachers that couldn't come at a worse time. Appalling deficiencies in two major school districts -- Baltimore City and Prince George's County -- and a surge of teachers nearing retirement make it imperative that more bright college students become Maryland teachers.

A Glendening administration bill creating a $3,000 scholarship for B-average students who agree to teach in Maryland public schools after graduation is a welcome step. While the stipend won't pay full education costs, it would cover more than 60 percent of tuition and fees at the University of Maryland, College Park.

State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says that quality teachers are the most significant educational component. Yet she cites these hurdles for placing qualified teachers in classrooms: Maryland public schools hired 5,700 teachers last year, but within two years 11,000 new teachers will be needed.

Only half of the 2,500 teachers trained at state colleges end up teaching in Maryland schools.

By 2003, 52 percent of experienced teachers will be eligible for retirement.

Mrs. Grasmick favors using a variety of incentives to attract high-quality teachers. For instance, a bill in the legislature would give teachers with advanced professional certificates $1,000 a year extra for working at a high-risk school.

Local school districts are considering similar incentives. Baltimore County educators want to pay 100 veteran teachers $2,500 a year more to work in schools with high teacher turnover. And city school officials want to pay teachers an extra month's salary to make Baltimore schools more appealing.

Unfortunately, many of these efforts are running into flak from teacher unions.

State legislators should support the teacher scholarship plan, though they may have to trim the initial funding request of $6.3 million to keep the governor's budget balanced. Another section of the bill, creating a broader HOPE scholarship program for other B-average college students, should be shelved for a year.

The focus this session should be on attracting more top students to the teaching profession -- before the teacher shortage hits.

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