Senate advances legislation allowing schools to hire part-time teachers without certification

By ETHAN DEWITT

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 05-23-2024 2:42 PM

The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow school districts to hire part-time teachers – without the need for a State Board of Education credential.

House Bill 1298 would allow teachers working fewer than 30 hours a week who pass a criminal background check to be hired and teach without the credential. But the bill would prohibit teachers whose New Hampshire education credential has been revoked from teaching under the new category. And it would require them to adhere to the state code of conduct and code of ethics for teachers.

Supporters say the bill would address persistent teacher shortages in the state and allow for school administrators to find more innovative solutions.

“This goes back to whether or not you trust your local school board to hire and retain people who work in that system and (are) able to provide a service to the school,” said Sen. Tim Lang, a Sanbornton Republican, speaking at a Senate Education Committee meeting earlier this month. “Who may not be a certified teacher but teaches a great business accounting class … or an art teacher, or a P.E. teacher – bringing in a football coach to teach P.E.”

Rep. Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said the bill could allow professors at community colleges to also teach high school classes without running into certification barriers. Invoking his experience as a former school principal, Ladd said the bill would add welcome flexibility for school superintendents.

“If this bill came forward to me, I would be very pleased, because I would be able to put people in in these teacher shortage areas,” he said.

But educators, teachers unions, and Democrats have spoken against the bill, arguing that a reduction in certification would lead to a decline in teaching quality and student achievement.

“If they’re not certified, they’re not real teachers,” said Rep. Corinne Cascadden, a Berlin Democrat and former school superintendent, testifying against the bill in the Senate Education Committee in April. “…You wouldn’t go to your dentist and expect someone who just wants to do your root canal. You want them to be trained.”

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The National Education Association of New Hampshire, the state’s largest teachers union, offered Texas as a cautionary tale: After the state passed a law in 2015 allowing schools to become “innovation districts” and drop teacher licensing requirements, researchers say the state has seen a stark rise in unlicensed teachers. This year, more than half of Texas educators are not certified, according to research by Minda Lopez and James P. Van Overschelde of Texas State University.

And the New Hampshire NEA cited a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Education that suggests that teachers without certifications are less likely to stay in the profession. A department survey of educators who began teaching in 2007 found that 85.4 percent of licensed teachers were still teaching in 2011, but only 69.8 percent of unlicensed teachers.

The bill comes as concern about teacher shortages has persisted. In November, a yearlong legislative study committee produced a pair of reports that noted dwindling enrollment in educator preparation programs in the state, and pointed to low pay – the average teacher salary is $40,478 – and burnout as two factors. The number of educator credential renewals has hit record highs in recent years, according to data from the Department of Education, but teachers unions say those numbers are inflated by the fact that many educators hold multiple certifications.

New Hampshire currently allows some teaching without a credential, with limits. The state administrative rules for schools allow an educator “with sufficient content knowledge as determined by the school principal” to teach in a program area without being certified. The rules state that the work must be less than 50 percent of the educator’s weekly work time.

The Senate’s bill is broader than the version passed by the House in March. The House’s version limited the part-time designation to teachers working up to 20 hours a week. And it required that part-time teachers have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field related to the subject they are going to teach and at least five years of occupational experience.

The Senate amended the bill to remove those requirements. Senate Republicans argued that doing so would allow for artists, musicians, and other professionals to work as part-time teachers without needing degrees.

Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, a Lebanon Democrat, said she wasn’t opposed to specialty members of the community who have backgrounds in local arts and culture being brought into the school system. But Prentiss said the bill’s language allowing teachers to work up to 30 hours per week would mean part-time teachers could be doing nearly a whole job. That, Prentiss argued, should require certification.

“It seems to me that we have gone just too far,” Prentiss said on the floor. “It’s one thing to bring in a specialty educator from the community. It’s another thing to be creating almost what I see as a secondary system that could start to break apart the fundamental profession of teaching in the state of New Hampshire.”

The amended bill will go back to the House on May 30, which will vote to approve or reject the changes or send the bill to a “committee of conference” with the Senate to resolve differences.