New law takes effect, changing some AZ teacher training requirements

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 10:40 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Arizona is the fourth-worst state in the country for teachers, according to a study out this week from WalletHub. It takes into account things like pay, student ratio, and spending per student.

So, it’s no surprise that the national teacher shortage is even more acute in our state.

On Sept. 24, a new law goes into effect that the governor and supporters say will help expand Arizona’s teacher pool. Hoever, not everyone agrees it’s the best plan.

When Governor Ducey signed SB 1159 last summer, it launched headlines relaying the message that educators no longer need a degree to begin teaching in Arizona public schools. That sparked some misunderstandings. The change only applies to beginning certain training programs. As this law takes effect, a bachelor’s degree is still required to be a certified teacher in Arizona.

“They have to be enrolled in an accredited post secondary bachelor’s program. They’re not full time teachers, but they can start training with exceptional educators, much like they would in a teacher prep program,” said Emily Anne Gullickson, president of Great Leaders, Strong Schools.

She explains, this law is for school districts running their own “alternative classroom-based preparation programs” and trainees must be supervised.

Nine districts have been approved to by the state to grow their own teachers. Vail Unified Schools have an alternative pathway program, but told me those who enter their alternative pathway program must hold a bachelor’s degree.

Gullickson said the law expands the applicant pool to include parents, former students, or people from other professions - creating new options for low income, rural, and border communities, as well as unique needs schools.

“It’s not a mandate, it’s an option for people who see that aspiring teacher and instead of having to wait six years, can we start building their skills now?” Gullickson said.

Not a mandate, but some current teachers would call it an insult.

“It is a real slap in the face to teachers who do have their degrees,” said Margaret Chaney, Tucson Education Association President.

She says the bill detracts from the real issues for teachers: things like pay, respect, resources, and politics.

“It’s foolish to ignore the elephant in the room,” Chaney said, adding that Arizona already has excellent preparations programs and she doesn’t understand the need for this law.

“There are still people interested in teaching. But, if your state has a shortage, then something, somewhere, is wrong - and maybe it’s the salary,” Chaney said.

Pima County Schools Superintendent Dustin Williams acknowledges that the change in the law isn’t necessarily bad, but said that’s not the point if Arizona is trying to fix its teacher problem.

“We have to have a conversation about a significant investment. A sustainable, significant investment,” said Williams, “Not through one cent sales tax and not through land deals and proposition 1-2-3. “We need to think about an investment in that base level funding that is going to get Arizona out of the bottom of the bracket across the nation and become a player.”

Williams and Cheney agree that the real effort needs to be on keeping current teachers - with a more attractive wage, around $55,000.

One thing all three of these educators agree on: something must be done about the teacher shortage.

Almost all of the The Southern Arizona districts we contacted said they want only highly qualified teachers in the classroom, and most already partner with colleges.

Catalina Foothills told us:

“SB 1159 disrespects what is required to teach children well. We have no interest in hiring people who have not been trained to teach. It’s also what our parents expect.”

However, Southern Arizona’s largest district, TUSD, is considering a change, saying in a statement to KOLD,

“We are working to build a teacher training program at TUSD but it will be a year or two out.”