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Arizona Legislature moving to add new teacher certification paths

The Arizona Legislature could soon approve changes to the teacher certification process by allowing more people without regular training to lead a class.
Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 5:08 PM MST
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PHOENIX (AP/3TV/CBS 5) — The Arizona Legislature could soon approve changes to the teacher certification process designed to address a shortage of classroom instructors by allowing more people without regular training to lead a class.

The Republican-backed proposal has already passed the Senate and was given initial approval after a vigorous House debate on Monday. Minority Democrats objected, saying it would allow unqualified people to teach and do little to impact the teacher shortage. The proposal expands a 2017 law that allows people with experience in the private sector to get a “subject-matter certificate” to teach in grades 6-12. The new proposal allows those people to also teach kindergarten through 5th graders. It awaits a formal House vote.

Five years ago, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Senate backed Senate Bill 1042, which allowed people with expertise in specific areas to obtain the subject-matter certificate to teach in schools and not go through the state’s usual requirements for standard teaching certificates. The bill required those to have a degree in their area of expertise or have at least five years of work experience in a similar field.

The bill was met with some opposition, with some saying it would lower teacher standards and didn’t address issues of school funding and teacher salary. Supporters of the bill said it would allow an increase of qualified teachers to come into Arizona classrooms. The bill passed with a 16-12 vote in Senate and was later approved by the House. Ducey later signed in April 2017. It was one of the most controversial education bills at the time, with the other being an expansion of the state’s voucher program.

“Some of the things we have an issue with are the idea that a subject matter expert certificate is appropriate for kids K – 5,” said Chris Kotterman with the Arizona School Boards Association.

Kotterman says while they appreciate some things in the bill, teaching elementary school requires a broad range of knowledge. For example, if you’re a chemist you’ll be more effective teaching chemistry to high schoolers. as opposed to a range of subjects to fourth graders. Another issue are the demands put on teachers relative to their compensation.

“The fact that people aren’t choosing the education profession isn’t because they don’t want to go through the effort to get a certificate,” Kotterman said. “They’re not choosing the education profession cause it’s not an attractive profession. You don’t get paid very well and it’s hard.”

Susan Lugo is the president of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. “I can tell you that projection wise, you can’t open up a newspaper article or magazine without hearing about the great resignation,” she said.

Lugo says teacher vacancies are stable, and the hardest positions to fill include special education roles across the board and math, science, and other specialized teaching jobs for 6th through 8th graders and high schoolers.

January numbers shed light on the ongoing teacher shortage in Arizona. The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) previously reported nearly 2,000 teacher vacancies to start the year. The report showed that 31% of teacher vacancies were unfulfilled, while almost 48% of the vacancies were filled by teachers that didn’t meet Arizona’s certification requirements.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.