The Baltimore County executive and the county’s Education Foundation are giving up to $1 million in scholarships for people of color and women in STEM pursuing a teaching career in the district’s public schools.

The Growing Our Own for BCPS Scholarship aims to attract and retain more high-quality teachers to the school system and create a more diverse teacher workforce, according to a Thursday news release from the county.

“The research is clear — a diverse, multicultural teaching force, one that reflects the community, pays dividends far into the future both for the teachers themselves and also, crucially, for the children they teach,” said Myriam Rogers, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. “We commend and thank County Executive [Johnny] Olszewski for making this important program a reality. As a former teacher himself, he understands the value of a program like this for Baltimore County’s future.”

Olszewski, who announced his run for Congress this week, said in a statement that all children deserve to grow up with role models and mentors who look like them.

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“Diversity is our strength in Baltimore County and the new recruitment scholarship will support students from across the county and make our school system stronger and more vibrant,” his statement read.

Right now, 68% of county students are people of color compared to 22% of their teachers, according to state data. Interest in the teaching profession overall has reached its lowest levels since 2010, and enrollment in Maryland education programs for college students has decreased by a third since 2012. Black teachers have left Maryland public schools at higher rates than educators of other races.

“I can’t overstate the importance for educators to look like students,” said Cindy Sexton, head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

Teachers are predominantly white women, she said, and money is often an obstacle to students getting teaching degrees.

Jennifer Lynch, the county government’s senior policy adviser for education and workforce, pointed out that students of color are more likely to drop out of teacher preparation programs in college.

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The scholarship, Lynch said, has been in the works since the pandemic started and the system was experiencing a teacher shortage. It aligns with an initiative in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, landmark education legislation that calls for school systems to create a plan for recruiting and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers.

The scholarship will be funded with federal COVID-19 relief money that expires December 2026 , according to Lynch.

The Education Foundation, which is in charge of the scholarship program, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Applications are open to juniors and seniors at local colleges, Baltimore County paraeducators and people of color who are interested in switching to the teaching profession. Women who want to pursue a teaching certificate in science, technology, engineering or math are also encouraged to apply.

Sexton said she loves the idea of paraeducators and career changers having access to scholarship funds. She was a career changer herself, and she knows a paraeducator who transitioned to teaching thanks to the school system’s Grow Your Own program that’s funded by the state.

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Although the application doesn’t specifically call for people in the LGBTQ+ community, Lynch and Sexton said they’re needed among the teacher ranks as well. Protecting transgender kids, Sexton said, has been a hot topic in the district, and having someone they can see themselves in is important.

“While teaching is certainly about the academics, it is largely also about building relationships with our students,” Sexton said.

This story has been updated to say the federal COVID relief money expires December 2026.