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Surplus Prisoners to Fill California Teacher Shortage
July 19, 2017
SACRAMENTO--At a joint press conference Friday, officials from the California Department of Education and the California Board of Prison Terms announced that a plan to employ furloughed and work-release prisoners as teachers and teaching aides in California schools is in the final stages of development and likely to enter phase-in implementation during the next school year. "We're delighted that California once again is at the forefront of creative governance," exclaimed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carmen Spatule. "Cross-agency and intra-governmental collaboration has produced a truly innovative, outside-the-box solution to two historically vexing problems of public administration."
The plan, designed to address both the problems of overcrowding in California prisons and the shortage of teachers in the state's struggling public education system, releases select, qualified prisoners to teach in the public schools during the day and to be held, with the help of high-tech electronic monitoring systems, under house arrest in school facilities during the night. "It's really a hand-and-glove fit," explains Superintendent Spatule. "[The Prison Board] lacks capacity to handle all their clients, while we've got lots of space that's widely under-utilized after school hours. They solve our problem personnel problem and we solve their space problem."
Commonly employed in the private sector as telemarketers, call-center and help-desk personnel, remote tellers, and contract programmers, prisonners have recently sought and secured training in professions as diverse as nursing, chiropracty, advanced pastry preparation, and medical test subjectry. "Becomming a productive member of society means learning to practice a trade," notes Friedrich Lime, Vice Superintendent of Folsom Prisoner's Local 238. "Teaching is a real growth spot in the service sector. Being qualified to teach, and having legitimate teaching experience on your c.v., means a real shot at a stable life once you’re on the outside."
Reacting to news of the plan, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, the union representing the majority of teachers in the California public schools, raised concerns about the effect of the plan on the union. "To be frank, we're concerned about the limitations imposed on the political activities of felons," explains Chester Meekes, CTA Assistant Press Secretary. "We welcome the expansion of our ranks, our members have been suffering through extreme staff-shortages for years, but, frankly, we're concerned about a dilution in the Association's political clout when so many of our new members will have, as felons, lost the right to vote in elections that are essential to our political effectiveness."
Responding to questions concerning the qualification and accreditation of the new teachers, Superintendent Spatule points to recent shifts in the curriculum from emphasis on the abstract intellecutal skills associated with standardized tests to emphasis on practical problem-solving in real-life contexts. "It turns out that many prisoners have life-experience that qualifies them uniquely to work with California students. Prisoners tend to have a sort of real-world pragmatism that has long been lacking in the curriculum. Prisoners also understand the world of today's young people. Three out of four students in California will spend a year or more in prison. The prisoners have an instant rapport with the students, a sort of credibility that traditional teachers almost never achieve."
Though declining to identify the districts or prisons to be involved in the program's initial phase, state officials have indicated that prisoners would be placed, on a small scale, in schools throughout the state during the first and second phases, and that prisoners would be selected from both federal and state institutions on the basis of contrition, good behavior, and dental health.
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