PHOENIX – The only education bills to show significant movement in the Arizona legislature involve teacher certification, but educators say that’s avoiding the real problem in Arizona education: teacher pay.
According to educators across the state, the only solution that will get more teachers into Arizona is increasing teacher pay. Gov. Doug Ducey is offering 2 percent over the next five years. Many people say it just isn’t enough.
Heidi Vega, the director of communications at the Arizona School Boards Association, says ASBA’s stance on these teacher certification bills is simple: it could potentially help, but at the end of the day, teacher certification just isn’t the reason Arizona has a teacher shortage.
The average teacher salary in Arizona is around $43,000, and according to the National Education Association, that salary has decreased by over 7 percent in the past decade.
“We just passed a law to increase minimum wage. If you do the math, by the year 2020, the minimum wage would be at $11,” Vega said. “At some school districts, that is a starting salary for first year teachers.”
The superintendent, Diane Douglas, is looking for a more steep increase in teacher wages.
“A reformed teacher certification program is just one of many ways to assist in filling teacher vacancies,” said Stefan Swiat, the public information officer for the Department of Education. “However, there are a number of other approaches to aid in those endeavors, which includes increasing teacher salaries. In her plan, Douglas calls for [an immediate one year] 5 percent salary increase across the board for teachers.”
There are over 4,400 open teacher positions in the state, and teachers are leaving their jobs in Arizona faster than they can be replaced, according to an Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey.
The chairman of the education committee, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he thinks Ducey’s education plan is great.
“I’ve never seen a budget, and I’ve been down here for three years, that is so devoted to education,” Boyer said, noting that many say Ducey should dedicate more of the education section of the budget towards teacher pay, instead of stretching it across multiple areas. “I love the approach of focusing on several areas.”
Included in those “several areas” is teacher certification.
However, Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, a member of the Committee on Education, doesn’t agree with her colleague.
“We have good standards and we have alternatives methods of being certified,” Alston said. “What I’ve heard from professionals in the field is that we don’t have a shortage of teachers who are certified to teach, we have a shortage of teachers who are willing to be in the classroom for the money that’s available to them.”
Despite this, the solution of the legislature is to propose multiple changes to the current teacher certification program, and no changes to teacher pay other than the increase detailed in Ducey’s new budget.
Three of these bills have made it through the Education Committees in their respective house or senate that are looking into teacher certification reform.
- SB 1039
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Flagstaff, introduced this bill in order to allow highly rated district or charter schools to approve alternative certification of teachers. The goal of this bill is to make it easier for qualified educators to become teachers, to keep educators in Arizona and to reward schools that are preforming well. The superintendent is in favor of the “intention” of the bill, but also has some concerns. “As it currently stands, the bill does not call for any sort of step or program to re-acclimate teachers who may not have taught in a classroom for 5-10 years,” Swiat said. “That is why the Arizona Department of Education is working with the bill’s sponsor to increase the pool of potential educators while also ensuring that they are qualified and prepared to teach again.”
- SB 1057
Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Sierra Vista, introduced this bill to ease the certification requirements for educators who are already teachers. It will allow a teaching certificate to be renewed within 10 years of its expiration without additional requirements. The teacher will have to have at least 10 years of teaching experience and a valid fingerprint clearance card. Like SB1039, the goal of this bill is to keep educators in Arizona and to remove any roadblocks that might stop qualified educators from continuing to work in the state. The superintendent is in favor of this bill.
- HB 2163
Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, introduced this bill to the house. Under current law, a person whose certification is denied because of immoral or unprofessional conduct is not allowed to submit another application for five years. Boyer hopes to change that to up to five years, in the case that the educator successfully completes the disciplinary process before the five years is over. The superintendent has major concerns bout this bill. “The superintendent does not want to compromise the certification system that ensures every Arizona teacher has the necessary qualifications to support our students,” Swiat said.
Each of these bills has the same goal: to ease the certification for educators in order to fill more teacher vacancies in the state. Some, however, believe the only way to get more teachers in the state is to increase teacher pay.
“Trying to find alterior pathways is a great approach, but we don’t think we’ll have a flood of new teachers because it’s easier [to get the teaching certification],” Vega said. “The root cause is teacher pay.”
Katherine Rippere, an education student at ASU who is working toward getting her teaching certificate, doesn’t think the process actually needs reform much at all.
“The general lack of caring about education is unfortunate, but the state needs quality educators who can stay. There are a lot of teachers throughout the state who aren’t necessarily certified,” Rippere said, particularly pointing out that she’s currently teaching on an emergency substitute certificate. “At this point you don’t even have to go through the process.”
Rippere says what Arizona teachers need now is not a change to the teaching certificate process. They need enough money to support themselves and their students.
Christianna Silva is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.