California needs 11,000 more pre-kindergarten teachers by 2025, as lawmakers embark on a huge expansion of free early education in California.

Could $33 million in donations to two California State University campuses, announced Wednesday, increase the pipeline of educators for these little learners?

The larger of the two gifts, $22 million, is the biggest-ever donation for Cal State Dominguez Hills. The grant is from the Ballmer Group, a limited liability company and philanthropy co-founded by Los Angeles Clippers owner and billionaire Steve Ballmer. The group also gave $11 million to nearby Cal State Long Beach for much of the same programming. The gifts will be doled out annually at roughly equal amounts for six years; both campuses got their first allotment in June.

The two schools educate a large share of low-income students. The campuses will spend about 80% of the money on scholarships for aspiring teachers and the rest on hiring personnel and expanding teacher training.

While most students at Cal State get enough financial aid from state and federal sources to avoid paying tuition, “the issue is that becoming a teacher is a lot more expensive than just being an undergraduate student,” said Jessica Zacher Pandya, dean of the College of Education at Dominguez Hills.

Students aspiring to be teachers must pay hundreds of dollars in licensure exams and commit to 600 hours of student teaching. The Ballmer Group scholarship will help students cover those fees, work fewer hours and borrow less so they can focus on completing their studies and teaching credentials.

Dominguez Hills plans to support roughly 1,200 students over a six-year period starting this spring, Pandya said. Students will get awards of $2,500 to $10,000, the largest amount reserved for those fulfilling their student-teaching hours. Some of that scholarship money will fund students who plan to teach in schools with large numbers of Black students, including in high schools, Pandya said.

The university is also developing a credential that will focus specifically on early grades, pre-kindergarten to third grade. The Ballmer Group money will help pay for faculty to develop that curriculum. Right now, the standard credential is for teaching grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The new credential is “much more developmentally appropriate” to teach younger students, Pandya said.

And as the Los Angeles area and California shift more of their early education from private institutions to school districts that pay higher wages, the Dominguez Hills campus hopes to graduate more teachers specifically trained to educate those young kids.

The campus hopes to attract current early-education instructors, who are typically women and people of color, into its programming, Padya said.

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