SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Facing a shortage of special education teachers, San Jose Unified School District has created a first of its kind program to fill the need.

“The cost of living has increased drastically over the last several years,” said SJUSD Director of Special Education Seth Reddy. “Because of the lack of teachers the labor market is very competitive.”

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Reddy said the program, called Rise into Special Education, is in partnership with San Jose State Unversity and will pay participants roughly $20,000 in tuition for the two years it takes to become certified. In addition to tuition, the program will cover the application fee to SJSU, testing fees, will include a borrowed MAC laptop as well as provide a mentor.

Reddy said of the district’s 30,000 students, about 10 percent are special needs. SJUSD struggles to fill between 10 to 30 special education teacher positions a year, he said.

“Obviously, special education is a very high needs profession, and it’s one that’s complex and so we see a little more turnover in that area than we do in other parts of our district,” said Reddy.

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Seven are already in the program, and the district hopes to double that number next year. The program is paid through a five year grant, but Reddy said he hopes it’s so successful that they find ways to fund it when the grant money runs out.

To be qualified, you must already be an instructional associate with SJUSD or be a general education teacher.

“This will fundamentally change so much about how we get qualified people in the classroom in special education,” Reddy said.

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To learn about the program, you can go the district’s web site.