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Innovative but risky South Carolina bill aims to solve the teacher shortage with non-certified teachers in classrooms

A legislative proposal in the South Carolina House is designed to tackle the increasing problem of teacher shortages by permitting the employment of non-certified professionals as educators. The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) reports that there were 1,400 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the current school year.

“Vacancies have been growing. This is a disservice to students in South Carolina and if we can’t find a way to retain our great teachers then we’re not meeting the mark for our students,” said Patrick Kelly with the Palmetto State Teachers Association to WLTX.

The House Education Committee recently voted to advance this bill to the House floor for further discussion, triggering mixed reactions from those involved in education. The bill suggests a five-year experimental program where schools could employ non-certified teachers for up to 25% of their total teaching staff. Although cautious, Kelly admits that employing non-certified teachers might be better than having unfilled teaching positions.

“Educator certification matters,” said Kelly. “The shortage is great, and if this is a way to get one more student access to all highly qualified teachers on a short-term basis, then it’s probably where we’re at as a state, which is an unfortunate reality that this is even necessary.”

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The bill stipulates that these non-certified teachers must hold a college degree in their teaching subject and have at least five years of relevant professional experience. It also requires them to seek certification within three years if they intend to continue teaching. The specifics of the required ongoing training for these individuals are left to individual schools and the Department of Education. The program, unless extended by new legislation, is set to last five years. Representative Kambrell Garvin emphasized the need for adequate support and training for these hires by their schools.

Garvin assured that the individuals considered for teaching positions under the new bill would not be unqualified or unsupported newcomers. Instead, they would come with relevant experience and receive thorough training from their districts to manage classrooms effectively. He believes this training will address any initial concerns. Garvin described the proposal as an additional resource for tackling teacher shortages.

“Is it going to fix all issues that we’re facing in regards to teacher vacancies? No, but it will be another opportunity that we have to recruit high-quality teachers into the classroom,” said Garvin.

Furthermore, the bill introduces the possibility of alternative certification paths. Alongside this, legislators are pushing for changes in the current certification system, including making teaching certificates permanent and allowing teachers to review their salaries before finalizing their annual contracts. Under the existing system, teachers commit to contracts without knowing their pay and face penalties for contract termination, including potential suspension of their teaching licenses for a year.

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“It’s wonderful to have the bill with alternative certification to give options for bringing other people into the classroom, but we should also be taking care of the teachers already in the classroom, so combining these two is, in my opinion, the best of both worlds,” said Rep. Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort).

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