PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) — A city in Arkansas is offering to pay for teachers’ master’s degree tuition in an effort to lure them to school districts experiencing shortages in Pine Bluff.
Ryan Whatley is the director of the organization Go Forward Pine Bluff . He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that teachers can obtain their master’s degree in teaching free of charge if they meet certain requirements.
The Teach Pine Bluff Initiative would allow certified teachers with bachelor’s degrees to attend University of Arkansas campuses in Little Rock, Pine Bluff or Monticello to obtain their master’s in teaching.
Area businesses have pooled nearly $700,000 for the fellowship program, Whatley said.
The Watson Chapel School District is in Pine Bluff. Superintendent Jerry Guess said the program is intended to push teachers to work in the city.
“It’s going to stabilize the staff some,” Guess said. “It’s intended to incentivize current teachers who want to get an advanced degree to get involved in a master’s program, and the end result is that they will agree to stay in the district for a certain number of years.”
To be eligible for the program, teachers must live and teach in Pine Bluff for at least three years after they earn their degree. They must also obtain their master’s in a four-year period.
Even those who already have a master’s degree can get a second one through the fellowship, as long as it’s in their content area, Whatley noted.
Teachers would be required to work in the Pine Bluff School District, the Dollarway School District or the Watson Chapel School District.
The Pine Bluff School District has 3,557 students. Of its 190 classroom teachers, 149 are certified and 41 are noncertified but have received waivers to teach, according to Superintendent Jeremy Owoh.
The Watson Chapel School District has 2,391 students and 178 classroom teachers, according to Guess. Of those teachers, 158 are certified and 20 have received waivers.
The Dollarway School District has 980 students and 77 teachers, seven of whom have received waivers.
Teachers can apply online . At least nine fellowships will be granted.
“It’s possible that we can send 11 or 12 through in a year, depending on where they choose to earn their degree,” Whatley said.