NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — Gov. Ned Lamont and other state leaders are taking steps to diversify Connecticut’s teacher workforce.

The governor outlined initiatives to recruit more teachers of color into public school classrooms.

State leaders say 90 percent of teachers in our state are white while 45 percent of the students they teach are people of color.

Connecticut is investing more than $5 million into a program called Teacher Residency. It’s supposed to fast-track minority candidates into the profession.

Joining Lamont in the effort is former Connecticut Teacher of the Year and U.S. Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-5th District).

“To have this completely mapped out is tremendous,” Hayes said. “To have 18 months of practical experience is something that is invaluable. Most teachers go through their whole program and do 10 weeks at the end of student teaching, so to be able to ask those questions in real-time, to get practical experience is what teachers want.”

Michael Livingston is a para-professional at a school in Bristol.

“Let me take that step, that leap, and try to become certified as a teacher. It’s my love for working with students and families,” Livingston said.

Leaders from the legislature’s Education Committee and teachers say the Connecticut program is desperately needed. So far, 25 candidates have gone through the program, and this year, 45 teaching apprentices are enrolled. Next year, it will double.

Hartford State Senator Dough McCrory (D) says he was the only male elementary school teacher of color in his workplace for years.

“Men of color don’t exist in this profession anymore, unfortunately, that’s the reality and we have to change that for young men and our young ladies because you can’t be what you don’t see,” McCrory said.

The program takes a year and a half of hands-on learning in the classroom with a mentor. Candidates get paid up to $49,000 a year, plus benefits. The mentor gets a $6,000 stipend.

Dr. William Petit (R – Plainville), says the state investment has bipartisan support.

“I went to a school in little old Plainville, next town over, and didn’t see a male teacher until seventh grade. Went through pre-K to seventh with all females and that’s the way it was, so I think recruiting to a diverse teaching population will benefit all of us,” Petit said.

The state pays for Alliance District student-teacher tuition for the program. Other towns have to pay for their student-teacher tuition.

Lamont said the goal is to hire 1,000 minority teachers. “This is not some woke thing, this is just the smart way to make sure that each and every one of our young people get the very best opportunity in life.”

There are 23 school districts around the state participating. Locations and partners vary among ACES, CES, CREC, and LEARN organizations. You must have a Bachelor’s Degree to apply for the program.