Archive for Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kansas lifts teacher licensure requirement in 6 districts

July 15, 2015

— Unlicensed teachers can work in six Kansas school districts, the Kansas State Board of Education decided Tuesday by a narrow vote.

Supporters contend the move will help address teacher shortages, especially in hard-to-fill subject areas. Opponents say it will hurt students and is a slippery slope for education in Kansas.

The proposal was poised to fail, but gained a swing vote for 6-4 passage when its supporters amended it to give the state board greater control over hires in those districts, the Topeka Capital Journal reported. Board member Kathy Busch of Wichita was the one to drop her opposition.

The measure waives the state's licensure regulations for school districts in the Innovative Districts Coalition, a program the Legislature created in 2013 that encompasses Blue Valley, Concordia, Hugoton, Kansas City, Marysville and McPherson school districts.

The districts suggested a "specialized teaching certificate" for prospective hires who don't have a teaching license. Those people would have to pass a background check and receive approval from local and state school boards and the coalition.

Before the vote, more than a dozen educators and parents tried to dissuade the board from exempting the districts from the state's licensure regulations. The state's main teachers union, the Kansas National Education Association, opposed the concept, saying it was designed to free up schools from state laws and regulations.

But the Kansas Association of School Boards contends doing so gives schools greater flexibility to hire candidates with specialized expertise who might lack formal teacher training. They argue school boards and school administrators should be trusted to hire the most qualified, competent teaching staff available, even in absence of state-mandated licensure requirements.

Critics, including Kansas Parent Teacher Association president Denise Sultz, warned the board of difficulties that untrained teachers can face managing large class sizes and understanding the learning process. They cited the difficulties of serving students with different skill levels, including those with learning disabilities or behavior problems.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said he understands the concerns from parents and teachers.

"I think their concerns are valid," Watson said. "I think we're all wanting a good quality educator in the classroom."

But Williams, who has spearheaded both the Innovative Districts program and the proposed license waiver, said the program was designed to test new ideas.

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