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Veterans could combat teacher shortages under Texas bill

Military veterans could receive a temporary Texas teacher certification under a bill introduced by a Plano Republican.

Texas school districts scrambled in recent years to hire enough educators amid an ongoing teacher shortage. Job fair after job fair still left openings, forcing districts across the state to lean on substitutes and other band-aids to teach students.

A Plano Republican thinks veterans could be part of the solution. He’s proposed allowing former military members to bypass the traditional teacher certification pathway – and degree requirements – to head to the classroom.

“This is an exciting opportunity not only to address the shortage that we’re currently experiencing, but can you imagine exposing our teachers to veterans that, you know, can teach history and talk about battles that they’ve been a part of, or the massive logistics that they’re responsible for?” Rep. Matt Shaheen said.

Shaheen’s bill would enable those who have been honorably discharged to work in classrooms under a temporary certificate for up to five years. Florida recently took a similar step to recruit former military members, but some have questioned if veterans are equipped with the necessary knowledge about the lessons children need to learn.

“What part of the military services prepares a veteran for teaching?” asked Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, during a March House Public Education committee hearing.

“It just seems to me like we’re reaching for straws now,” she added.

Despite those concerns, Shaheen’s bill passed out of committee last month on a 9-3 vote. It could now head to the full House, but it has not yet been called for a vote.

Typically, to become a certified teacher in Texas, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, complete an educator preparation program, pass related exams, submit a state application and complete a background check.

Shaheen’s bill would allow veterans who served for four years to apply for a teaching certification before they have obtained a bachelor’s degree.

It would also require veteran educators to initially be assigned a mentor teacher and get at least 20 hours of classroom management training – unless they have spent time as an instructor during their military duty.

Other states have also turned to veterans to combat educator shortages.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year opened the door for veterans to earn a five-year temporary education certificate as they finish their bachelor’s degree. So far, it has brought in few teachers.

Like in Shaheen’s bill, Florida’s law opens a teaching pathway to veterans who have a minimum of 48 months of active duty military service. They also must have been honorably discharged, with at least 60 college credits and a 2.5 grade point average.

So far, the Florida education department received more than 500 applications for the pathway. Spokesperson Cassie Palelis said that 20 veterans are currently teaching via this certification program.

Shaheen’s bill would require the State Board for Educator Certification to propose rules for such a program in Texas.

During teacher training, candidates often learn about how to manage student behavior, plan lessons, serve children with disabilities and other classroom skills.

“I would think a veteran that has years of experience actually brings more to the table than say a teacher that just recently graduated from college,” Shaheen said.

Still, he said that lawmakers may consider amending the bill to narrow which subjects veteran educators teach.

“What we might end up doing is limiting the classes that the veterans can take, so move them away from English and that kind of stuff and they would be focused more on science, biology and those types of things where there’s more of a direct correlation,” Shaheen said.

Texas does not provide statewide data on teacher vacancies, making it difficult to get a full picture of the need.

The state had 376,086 classroom teachers in the 2021-22 school year, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nearly 12% of them left the profession that year, up from about 10% in other recent years.

Recent polls stoke fears of a potentially larger exodus of teachers, as they contend with pandemic-induced learning loss, political attacks and compensation that lags behind. Roughly three-quarters of Texas teachers said they seriously considered leaving the profession because of a lack of respect and support, a poll by the Charles Butt Foundation found.

recent report from the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force advised improving teacher pay, working conditions and training as ways to bolster the profession.

Texas AFT spokesperson Nicole Hill said the teacher group is opposed to solutions to the teacher vacancy problem that “diminish teaching certification standards or go around the State Board of Educator Certification.” Veterans can already enter the profession through different paths, she added.

“We cannot support anything that lands someone without a degree as the teacher of record for a classroom,” she said in a statement. “It’s not fair to that teacher, who may have a difficult time adjusting and managing their class, and it’s not fair to kids.”

Source: Dallas News