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Bill to tackle rural teacher shortage runs into union roadblock

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Just as one bill to study teacher shortages around the state is making its way through the legislature, another one that actually would do something about it was throttled in the cradle this week by its own author, state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, after he couldn’t get enough support.

As Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nicholas Garcia reports, Wilson’s House Bill 1178 would have let rural schools districts — often dead zones for recruitment — hire unlicensed teachers if necessary. That could mean veteran teachers from out of state who haven’t yet applied for Colorado licenses; it also could mean teachers who hold degrees in various disciplines but haven’t necessarily taken the core education courses in teacher-training programs at one of the state’s colleges or universities.

Under the bill, a school district could have hired a unlicensed person to fill a vacant licensed teacher position if, after trying to fill the position with a licensed teacher, the board of education of the district passed a resolution declaring a critical shortage of licensed teachers. The hiring school district would have to provide professional development and support to the unlicensed teacher. The unlicensed teacher would have been subject to the same employment and evaluation provisions that apply to licensed teachers.

A majority of the State Board of Education as well as the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, balked. Particularly in the Democratic-controlled House, where the union has a lot of clout in the majority party, it was hard for Wilson to find votes for his proposal. The teachers union in particular is a staunch defender of licensure, Garcia notes.

He quotes an exasperated Wilson:

“My question is: Who is going to be concerned between unlicensed educators versus no educators?” he said. “There’s no easy simple solution to going out and finding (licensed teachers). They’re not there. I’ve never seen this kind of crisis — ever.”

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