Arizona is one step closer to offering prospective teachers a new pathway into the profession.
The state Senate last week passed SB 1159, sponsored by Sen. Rick Gray, R-Peoria, legislation that expands the ways a person can attain a teaching certificate and crucial training.
Arizona previously made reforms to the teacher certification system in 2016 and 2017 that removed some of the bureaucratic hurdles for hiring qualified teachers and expanded the accessible talent pool. The Subject Matter Expert (SME) teaching pathway has allowed more than 3,000 individuals to begin teaching in areas where they possess expertise in a subject matter.
Currently available to those teaching grades 6-12, SB 1159 would expand the SME certification pathway to be available for those teaching grades K-12.
“As a non-traditionally certified teacher myself, I have a firm belief that if you have the right mindset about wanting to serve children, having high expectations, and care about their wellbeing, we can train you to be a great teacher,” said Matt Simon, vice president of government affairs & advocacy for Great Leaders Strong Schools, during Senate Education Committee testimony on the bill. “This bill represents the next phase to empower local school leaders. I trust local school leaders about their hiring of talent.”
The legislation also expands the Classroom-Based Preparation Program to allow individuals without a Bachelor’s degree to enter the training program and complete their training while working towards finishing their degree. The Preparation program has various stipulations, including that the individual cannot regularly instruct students unless they are in the presence of a full-time teacher, a certified teacher, an instructional coach or an instructional mentor, unless the candidate has a separate certification, such as a substitute certificate.
This new pathway represents an approach for those to be able to gain crucial training and experience, while also completing their degree. This could include individuals already employed at the school who are looking for ways to grow in their career and need affordable and accessible pathways.
The bill also requires the Arizona Department of Education to report on the number of certified teachers in the state and how they achieved their teaching license.
Groups supporting this bill include Great Leaders Strong Schools, the Arizona Charter Schools Association, and Arizona Parents for Education.
The Arizona Education Association and the Arizona School Administrators Association, which represent the interests of current school employees, are among the opponents of the legislation, but bill sponsor Gray was unpersuaded by their arguments when the bill was heard during committee.
“If we don’t allow, out of hand-wringing and fear, those people that have qualifications, those people that have a passion and the desire to educate our youth, then we are short-changing our children,” he said. “It’s been reinforced over and over and over again how desperately we need teachers in the classroom, and this bill gives the potential for people that have that ability, it gives them the opportunity to come in and serve in an area of passion for them. The potential for good far outweighs any concern.”
The bill passed the Senate 16-12 and is currently awaiting a committee hearing in the House.