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Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn speaks to reporters at the state Capitol on Aug. 6, 2020. 

(The Center Square)—The Tennessee Department of Education awarded $4.5 million in grants for its Grow Your Own teacher training program through COVID-19 pandemic federal relief funds.

The program partners school districts with colleges and universities, called educator preparation providers, which train teachers through grant funding with no cost to the new teachers.

Forty-five $100,000 grants were awarded among 13 higher education providers, including Austin Peay State University, Freed-Hardeman University, Lincoln Memorial University, Lipscomb University, Milligan University, Middle Tennessee State University, Nashville Teacher Residency, Relay Graduate School of Education, Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee State University, Tusculum University, the University of Tennessee and University of Tennessee at Martin.

“This investment provides individuals with the opportunity to become a teacher for free and will continue to make Tennessee the best state to become and be a teacher,” state Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a statement. “We are excited to continue to see the success of this program impact the state for years to come.”

The grants come after a $2 million seed investment in the program as part of $21 million set aside for the program and others to support Tennessee’s educator pipeline. The state is drawing from $4.2 billion in federal recovery funding for Tennessee schools.

“The Grow Your Own program has been incredibly successful by providing additional learning opportunities and advancing career pathways for local candidates to join the teaching profession,” said House Education Instruction Subcommittee chair Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “We are excited to see this program expanding to other Tennessee communities and know they will benefit from these additional resources.”

The grants partner the 13 education facilities with groups of school districts, more than 50 in total, to train teachers. The program pays for everything from tuition to textbooks and fees while providing a path for the potential teachers selected for the program to get licensed to teach. The initial funding is expected to provide for 650 teachers to get trained in the state at no cost to the teachers.

“This work matters, and we appreciate the state’s commitment to ensuring all our students will have access to high-quality teachers,” said Prentice Chandler, dean of Austin Peay’s Eriksson college of education.

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