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9:54 PM Tue, Oct. 16th

Gov. Ducey signs bill lowering teacher standards

Governor touts it as a way to ‘attract the best individuals;’ opponents say it burdens teachers with training colleagues

Gov. Doug Ducey

Capitol Media Services file

Gov. Doug Ducey

PHOENIX — Come this summer, school superintendents and principals will be able to hire people without formal training to teach in their classrooms.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation to create new exceptions to laws which generally allow traditional public schools to hire people who have gone through traditional teacher training.

There already are some exceptions which allow people to enter the classroom while they get their certification. But the governor has argued these portals are not wide enough.

Ducey also contends the change in the law will help alleviate the shortage of teachers.

“No longer will an outdated process keep qualified, dedicated individuals out of the classroom,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Instead, principals will now be empowered to make hiring decisions and attract the best individuals to serve our students.”

That contention has been battled by Democrats and some teacher groups who have argued the answer lies not in lowering standards but making the profession more attractive. That includes higher salaries.

“The governor’s plan invites people without any preparation and without any classroom experience to educate our children,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. And he argued in his statement the infusion of new teachers without proper training actually will harm what already takes place in schools.

“By signing this bill, the governor is further burdening our teachers with the additional responsibility of training new, unprepared colleagues how to teach,” Thomas said. “All this does is set up a churn-and-burn model of low-wage teachers who will continue to leave after a few years, and our children will continue to suffer for the profit of adults.”

But it’s not just the Democrats who sought a veto. State schools chief Diane Douglas also said the legislation is a mistake.

“In my opinion, lowering the standards for new teachers is not the way to correct the problem,” she said in a prepared statement. More to the point, Douglas said there already are alternate pathways to become a teacher.”

Douglas, a former member of the Peoria Unified School District governing board, also said that having knowledge of a specific specialty or discipline does not necessarily mean the ability to actually impart that wisdom to a class full of students.

The school superintendent also has lined up against Ducey on the issue of not just pay for teachers but how to fund that.

Both Douglas and Ducey support extending the 0.6-cent sales tax first approved by voters in 2000. It raises close to $600 million a year.

Without either legislative action or a public vote, that will expire in 2020.

The governor, however, once again reaffirmed this week he is not interested in expanding the levy. Instead he said one way of getting more money to teachers would be to reallocate how the proceeds are divided.

That, however, would mean taking revenues away from others who have benefited from the tax, including universities and community colleges.

Douglas, by contrast, said boosting the levy to a full penny would raise an additional $400 million. And she said if all of those new dollars are earmarked for teacher pay, that could mean an 11 percent increase in salaries.

Ducey had originally proposed a 2 percent increase, but phased in at 0.4 percent for the next five years. That has so far proven politically unpalatable to most lawmakers who are currently looking at condensing the time frame to just two years, one percent immediately and an additional percent next school year.

The governor on Tuesday signed separate legislation that expands an existing loan forgiveness program for people who go into teaching.

Current law earmarks the program for those who go to schools in areas experiencing a teacher shortage. The new law alters that to focus on those who teach in a public school that is low-income, rural or located on an Indian reservation.

Loan forgiveness also would be available to not only those who go through traditional teacher training programs but pursue certification through alternate programs.