South Florida State College graduated its first class of elementary school teachers in May. After two years of seeing 12 students through teacher preparation courses, internships, and examinations, the college said nearly all have found employment in area school districts.

But SFSC’s efforts put only a dent in the long-running problem of recruiting teachers for the state’s schools.

According to the latest report from the Florida Department of Education, the state faces a critical shortage of teachers in science, mathematics, English, reading, and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

What makes the teacher shortage even more daunting for school administrators is that too few minorities choose to enter the profession.

As SFSC prepares to enroll a new class of students in its Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE) program that starts in August, it aims to increase enrollment of minority students.

SFSC expanded outreach to minority candidates this spring and summer under the leadership of Dr. Maday Leon, the BSEE program’s lead instructor.

Now SFSC wants prospective students to know that financial incentives exist for choosing education as a profession. The Florida Fund for Minority Teachers offers a $4,000 scholarship to minority students who enter a teacher preparation course at participating Florida colleges, including SFSC.

Candidates for the fund’s Minority Teacher Education Scholarship must be U.S. citizens, admitted to a teacher preparation program, and have completed at least 60 credit hours. The scholarship is available to students who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American.

Scholarship applications for the spring academic term of 2017—the next available opportunity—open on Sept 15. A screening committee at each participating college selects students for the scholarship.

Students receive the scholarship during their junior and senior years. The $4,000 is enough to cover tuition for each year of study.

The shortage of minority teachers comes at a time of growing enrollment of African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities in the state’s schools.

In the three counties that comprise SFSC’s service district—DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands—more than half the students are classified as minority.

Many Florida school districts have struggled to recruit teachers that reflect the composition of their classrooms. Figures from the state department of education show that approximately 14 percent of the elementary school teachers in DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands are classified as minority.

The Florida Legislature set up the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers scholarship in 1996 to assist the state’s colleges in attracting more minorities to classroom teaching. The program is administered by a board of directors appointed by the governor.

Graduates of SFSC BSEE program earn endorsements in reading and English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL), both of which are of interest to school principals aiming to hire highly qualified teachers.

To learn more about admission to this fall’s BSEE degree program or the scholarship, contact Dr. Leon at 863-784-7154 or leonm@southflorida.edu.