By April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
This story was originally published by Nevada Current.
CARSON CITY–A bill to remove a teacher licensure exemption available to charter schools has been quietly introduced into the Nevada State Legislature, but the extent to which the exemption is being used isn’t known — even to top education officials.
Assembly Bill 109 would require Nevada charter schools to follow the same teacher licensure requirements school districts do. Existing law allows for up to 30% of a charter school’s teachers to be unlicensed, so long as they are not teaching certain subjects — such as English, math or special education. The other 70% must be licensed in the area they are teaching or have demonstrated subject matter expertise.
Supporters of the bill see it as a leveling of the playing field and a principled statement on the importance of proper teaching credentials. The bill has no formal opponents yet. But some within the charter school world say it’s a nonissue.
But some potentially crucial information appears to be missing. The State Public Charter School Authority, which oversees the vast majority of charter schools within Nevada, does not know how many of its schools are taking advantage of their ability to hire unlicensed or under-licensed teachers.
Charter School Authority Executive Director Rebecca Feiden last spring told lawmakers on the Interim Committee on Education — where the proposed bill originated — that only 36 of the 2,287 teachers employed by charter schools lack “an active license” with the Nevada Department of Education. That represents less than 1% of charter school teachers. She also reported that the unlicensed educators taught subjects like yoga, dance or photography.
But Feiden acknowledges that substitute teaching licenses count as an active license.
This means there may be charter school teachers who are licensed by the state as substitute teachers but not fully licensed as an educator. To become a substitute teacher in Nevada, a person must have 60 college credits, roughly the equivalent of an associate’s degree. There are several full teaching licenses — provisional, standard and professional — but all have significantly more requirements than a substitute teaching license.
Feiden confirmed the Charter School Authority does not know how many of its approximately 2,200 charter school teachers have only a substitute teaching license.
A spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Education indicated such information wasn’t immediately available and directed the Current to a data request form that could take weeks to even be acknowledged.
Feiden says that, after the issue briefly arose early last year, the Charter School Authority attempted to coordinate with the state department of education to suss out active licensure by type, but ran into data issues. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit and shelved their efforts.
Charter schools are required to submit their teachers’ license numbers to the authority on an annual basis. All public schools are required to have readily available, for any parent or guardian who requests it, an easy-to-understand report listing information about whether their child’s teachers are licensed for the grade or field they are teaching. Nevada’s database on teacher licenses is public and searchable. But all of these disjointed bits of information aren’t easy to cross-reference.
Even without that analysis on hand, Feiden says she does not believe there is a problem with unlicensed or under-licensed educators within state charter schools.
“Often, when those folks are hired by our schools, (the schools) work with them to try and get them into an (alternative route to licensure) course,” she says, “because sometimes they meet qualifications on many levels but may have not gone through enough all the education courses (required by the state).”
Victor Salcido, the executive director of the Charter School Association of Nevada, says he sees AB109 as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. He is critical of what he says is a “false narrative” that charter schools are prone to hiring unlicensed or under-licensed educators.
“If the issue is we want licensed teachers at all schools, including public charter schools, there’s not going to be an argument from me,” he said.
Salcido says the handful of unlicensed educators within the charter school system are people with exceptional professional experience — a Smith Center violinist turned violin teacher, for example. Having some flexibility to hire in non-core subjects is a benefit for schools, he adds.
He also points out that school districts often place long-term substitutes in their vacant positions. Beginning the academic year with hundreds of teacher vacancies is an annual occurrence for the Clark County School District, especially at schools in low-income zip codes, a 2019 analysis by the Current found.
KNPR reported in early 2020 there were 664 long-term substitutes within CCSD. The number of long-term substitutes in positions within school districts is more readily available because districts are required to report them to the state.
When asked about the routine use of long-term substitutes, recruitment personnel from the district have downplayed the potential negative impact of “guest teachers” with anecdotes about substitutes who are enrolled in college to become fully licensed educators or are retired teachers.
“What it points to is the teacher shortage throughout the state,” said Salcido. “That’s a serious issue in public district schools and public charter schools.”
The Nevada State Education Association sees things differently. What they see is charter schools being given fewer restrictions than district schools by a state that has allowed the charter school industry to grow unchecked for too many years.
“What these charter schools are doing is saying there are certain subjects that just don’t matter and let’s have anybody do it,” says Brian Rippet, president of NSEA. “If you are going to use public money, the accountability is the license.”
Rippet says charter schools should be free to hire unlicensed professionals to give instruction in their area of expertise, but that such individuals need to be under the supervision of a licensed teacher.
“You must have a licensed person who has the pedagogy, the understanding of kids,” he added.
NSEA was one of the organizations that encouraged the interim committee on education to take up the issue as a bill. They plan to support the bill.
Salcido said the charter school administrators he’s spoken to about AB109 are not concerned about it, and, barring any major amendments to the proposal, he does not expect to formally oppose the bill.
The Charter School Authority also hasn’t taken an official position on the bill as introduced, but Executive Director Feiden says she sees “a need to clarify” the existing laws surrounding teacher hiring.
AB109 has not yet been scheduled for its first committee hearing.