Cochise County educators weary of new statewide certification law

The schools of Cochise County do not support Gov. Doug Ducey’s new law allowing uncertified teachers to lead classrooms throughout the state of Arizona.

Jacqui Clay Cochise County School Superintendent

“This does not solve the root of the problem,” said Cochise County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay. “The root of the problem is teacher pay … and appreciation.”

The new law comes with hope that it can help ease the teacher crisis in Arizona, where more than 850 teachers have already quit into the new school year. The state’s education system is consistently ranked one of the lowest in the nation, specifically in teacher salaries, school funding and average per-pupil spending.

Arizona’s elementary school teachers have the lowest salary in the nation, while secondary school salaries rank 48th. In addition, teachers aren’t getting the funding they need to teach their students, being ranked dead-last in the U.S. for average per-student spending.

What is SB1042?

Last May, a state law was passed that allows school districts to hand out teaching contracts to those with no type of teaching certificate, no formal training and no bachelor’s degree required. The only requirement is proof that they have at least five years’ worth of experience within the field they which to teach.

Last year, the state filled nearly 2,500 teaching positions with uncertified teachers. Neighboring Vail district hired up to 40 uncertified teachers.

“It’s not an answer when we’re looking at teaching staff,” said Superintendent Tom Woody of the Bisbee Unified School District. “I will always try and find the alternatives before considering something like that.”

Venturing outside of hiring those with less than a standard Arizona teaching certificate isn’t unheard of. In fact, it’s already well-established in Arizona.

Many school districts in Arizona have already been finding ways around the teacher shortage before the uncertified teaching law went into effect.

What are the “alternatives”?

Recently The Arizona Republic put together a database showing 22 percent of 46,000 public school teachers were teaching below a standard teaching certificate, while 133 of 162 school districts reported hiring underqualified teachers, including those in Cochise County.

When looking into some of Cochise County’s larger unified school districts, there is a significant portion of the teaching staff below standard certification. But it is important to note that these are still certified positions.

A standard certification requires a bachelor’s degree, passing a professional and knowledge exam, and two years of experience teaching in Arizona. Provisional teachers have met the same qualifications, but have yet to teach for at least two years in the state. Reciprocal teachers are from out of state, but meet the same qualifications of an Arizona provisional certificate.

Schools must notify and verify that an emergency employment situation exists before hiring an emergency teacher or an emergency substitute. Emergency teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, but an emergency substitute only needs a high school diploma but cannot teach for more than 120 consecutive days. A substitute teacher may not tech for more than 120 days as well, but must have a bachelor’s degree.

Teaching interns are concurrently enrolled in a teacher-preparation program and actively working toward a standard certification.

“Where’s the accountability?”

According to Clay, some school districts like Vail have systems in place to train new uncertified teachers. But Cochise County and many other districts do not have the time, people or money to train new uncertified recruits. Nor do they want to.

“On a bigger scale… where’s the accountability?” asked Clay. “This law is so fuzzy. It’s just putting it right back on the teachers and administrators again. That burden has to go somewhere. How is this fixing it?”

The answer: More money. More appreciation. More teachers.

“The state is going to have to get the salaries up,” said Woody. “Right now, with the salaries so low, it’s not attractive to students after spending four years at college to get certified.”

Clay believes the new law brings the already working, certified teachers down another notch. “Teachers don’t feel appreciated. We work hard. We work with our hearts. What the state has done to teachers … they’ve damaged their hearts,” said Clay.

“We have to take care of what we already have.”

 

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