Kansas Department of Education commissioner Randy Watson, left, praised launch of a pilot program Tuesday providing apprenticeships for 15 aspiring educators who would gain hands-on experience while earning four-year degrees in education. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas has launched a pilot program designed to develop more classroom educators through a four-year registered teacher apprenticeship.

Participants in the program receive a salary for working in the classroom and collaborate with experienced educators while earning a bachelor’s degree at a college or university accredited by the education department.

State funding earmarked for the Dept. of Education’s teacher licensure operation would be funneled to provide grants to cover college tuition for apprentices, a portion of an apprentice’s salary and compensation for mentor teachers.

The initial program launched with just 15 apprentices, but plans are to grow the program to 50 within a year and to include more than 100 after several years. 

“This is an important step to alleviating the shortage of educators we have in Kansas,” said Randy Watson, the state’s education commissioner. “It is a win-win situation for individuals who want to pursue teaching as a career, school districts that have a shortage of educators and our students who deserve a quality teacher in every classroom.”

“Historically, when all of us think of apprentices, we think about the trades. We think about a plumber, HVAC technicians, a welder,” said Mike Beene, an assistant secretary at the Kansas Dept. of Commerce. “Guess what? Apprentices are for IT and health care professions, and today they’re for teachers in the state of Kansas.”

He said Kansas was among four states making the cultural shift to teacher apprenticeships and investing in a broader range of initiatives to meet demand in hard-to-fill occupations.