Friday, May 24, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers consider softer qualifications to attract more uncertified teachers

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

With educators finding better pay in other fields, Louisiana lawmakers are considering altering the profession’s qualifications in order to bring a new crop of applicants into the education system without having to raise teacher salaries.

Senate Bill 197, sponsored by Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, would change the qualifications to be a school teacher in Louisiana and eliminate the requirement that prospective teachers get a second criminal background check to become certified. It passed the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs on Wednesday with unanimous support. 

The proposal would allow uncertified individuals with baccalaureate degrees in critical shortage fields to teach at the high school level on a provisional permit for five years, after which they will receive full certification. They would not have to enroll in a certification program or pass an exam, but school districts can only hire them if no one else with a professional certification is available for the position.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, individuals without traditional education degrees could typically only teach on a provisional permit if they were enrolled in a post-baccalaureate certification program and passed a series of proficiency exams tailored to a specific subject area. In an effort to ease the pandemic-induced teacher shortage, state lawmakers passed a law last year that did away with one of those exams.

For those who have met all certification requirements but failed the exam, Peacock’s bill would grant professional teacher certificates to any applicants who scored within 10% of the passing score. It would also grant certificates to those who have graduated from a teacher education program with less than a 2.5 grade point average.

For out-of-state principals, the bill would remove the requirement that one must have a year of experience working in Louisiana prior to receiving certification. 

The bill has so far been steamrolling through the Senate, receiving unanimous support in the Education Committee last month despite opposition from teacher unions that have pushed for higher salaries as a means of attracting qualified teachers rather than filling the gap with less-qualified candidates.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter told the Senate Education Committee that current salaries, even after last year’s $1,500 raise, are not enough to raise a family. The average teacher salary in Louisiana, which varies by parish and school district, ranges from $45,000 to $66,000, according to federal labor data. 

The union’s latest survey showed that 84% of teachers have considered leaving their current position, he said.  

Gov. John Bel Edwards asked legislators to include $2,000 pay raises in this year’s budget, but Carter said that amount is still not enough to offset inflation and rising insurance premiums. Instead of the salary bump, Republican leaders in the Louisiana House currently want to pay down debt in the teachers’ retirement system and let local school boards decide whether they can provide raises. 

The Louisiana Department of Education estimates the standards Peacock proposes could attract up to 5,000 more teacher applicants, which is about what the department saw last year.

Carter said the number of teachers who don’t have certifications or teach outside their certification areas increased nearly 10% in the 2021-2022 school year from two years prior.

If approved, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2025. It next heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

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