Teacher certification requirements vary from state to state as much as teacher salaries, in response to issues like staffing needs and local politics. There are often ways for a person to pursue teaching certification designed to bring non-education majors and career changers into the profession. But states typically require teachers to have completed a bachelor’s degree before they take charge of a classroom.
In Arizona, however, that baseline requirement has just changed.
On July 5, Governor Doug Ducey signed S.B. 1159, which allows for the hiring of teachers who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. Teachers will only have to prove that they are enrolled in college to qualify for a teaching position. The bill also facilitates the renewal of licenses for teachers whose licenses have expired.
“S.B. 1159 will ensure that more Arizonans have the opportunity to pursue a career in education and help get our kids caught up,” said Ducey in a press release from the office of the governor.
The legislation is designed to help Arizona tackle the long-term issue of its teacher shortage, which Ducey has previously attempted to address via different means. The Arizona Teachers Academy program, which began in 2017, allows students who commit to teaching in Arizona’s public schools to graduate college debt free, and the 20×2020 plan brought teacher salaries up by 20% between 2018 and 2020.
In 2018, Arizona elementary teachers ranked 49th in earnings in comparison to other states’ averages, and high school teachers ranked 48th. It should be noted, however, that salaries varied widely between school districts.
Despite these measures, Arizona is still struggling to staff its schools. 2022 marks the sixth year of the state’s teacher shortage, with 26% of positions unfilled, and half of filled positions already held by teachers who don’t meet the state’s certification requirements. Fast-track or emergency certification programs allow people who lack master’s degrees, degrees in education, or subject-area college credits to teach. With a few exceptions, such as career and technical education positions, such programs have always required a college degree — until now.
The Arizona Education Association opposed S.B. 1159.
“You have to have some experience. It’s going to allow people to do on-the-job training, and that’s where it’s scary,” said Marisol Garcia, the organization’s president.
State Representative Kelli Butler (D), in explaining her no vote to the House education committee, said, “We know that there is a teacher shortage because we have made the job of teaching nearly impossible in Arizona. They do not make enough money. The class sizes are huge.”
Like the massive expansion of the state’s school voucher program that Governor Ducey signed into law last week, creating the nation’s largest such program, support for S.B. 1159 ran along party lines.
Republican enthusiasm for the bill is tangled up in conservatives’ “anti-CRT” or “anti-woke” agenda, which blames schools of education, and higher education in general, for serving as gatekeepers and churning out teachers who dominate public education with their radical, anti-racist agenda.
The watering down of teacher certification requirements is generally supported by advocates of privatization and opponents of teachers’ unions. Politico reported in February that the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council had made loosening requirements through alternative teacher certification methods one of its priorities in education policy, alongside promoting school choice programs like Arizona’s voucher law and limiting what teachers can say about topics such as racism.
“Government regulations surrounding the teacher certification process can impose undue burdens on teachers and can subsequently limit the pool of qualified professionals in the field,” wrote ALEC officials. “Alternative credentialing can break down these regulatory burdens, making it easier to hire and retain more teachers.”
While everyone agrees that the teacher shortage presents an urgent need, there is an ideological divide in who we want filling these positions and how to maintain the pipeline. It seems significant, however, that whether it’s via low salaries, poor working conditions, or lowering the bar for certification, conservatives seem determined to keep the most educated candidates away from the profession charged with teaching our children.