This article was co-authored by Ben Shelton, Jon England, and Emeline Benson.
Today, it is not uncommon for classrooms to be missing their teachers. Schools across the state are facing the repercussions of large-scale teacher vacancies. As a result, substitutes, paraprofessionals, and administrators have had to step outside of their professional roles and teach classes. While these valiant efforts should be applauded, students ultimately deserve a teacher to guide them on their educational journeys.
The extent of teacher shortages in Utah should not be understated. According to an audit on teacher retention in Utah, “The U.S. will likely face a shortage of 200,000 teachers by 2025 if policymakers and public education leaders do not act.” In 2021, some Utah school districts had teacher turnover rates up to 18% and shortages leaving up to 33% of classrooms without their teacher.
These shortages must be resolved in an expedient manner if Utah hopes to maintain or improve the education outcomes of its students.
A major culprit for the state’s shortage of qualified educators is occupational licensing restrictions. An occupational license is essentially a government permission slip that grants an individual the ability to work in the profession they choose. Without an occupational license, many jobs are unattainable to the general public.
License requirements are intended to increase public safety but too often do the exact opposite. When individuals are denied jobs due to licensure requirements, public safety actually may decline as critical roles in industries, like healthcare, are left unfilled.
Such restrictive licensing requirements particularly burden busy, hardworking, low-income individuals. For example, a single parent seeking to become a licensed professional must overcome expensive education requirements, which often necessitate a college degree and large time commitments. These requirements might make reaching one’s desired professional goal unattainable. Someone in this position may not have the monetary ability or available time to gain licensure.
Despite reform efforts, Utah’s prospective teachers are not exempt from overly restrictive licensing requirements. The State Board of Education advertises that there are two paths for licensure, both requiring the same steps, albeit in a different order.
In Utah, there are three levels of licensure that teachers can obtain. Each licensure level comes with increased prestige, possibly greater earning potential, and certainly larger restrictions.
The three levels of licensure are described below:
- Associate Teaching License (formerly Level 1): This is the lowest level of licensure a teacher can obtain. One must complete a teacher prep program (including the required student teaching hours), pass a Praxis test, and obtain a bachelor’s degree. Candidates who choose to attend a teacher preparation program not located in Utah must first apply for a license in the state where the preparation program is located before applying for licensure in Utah. Teachers can only work as associate teachers for three years as they participate in the Entry Years Enhancement (EYE) process. If a teacher is unable to earn their professional license during these three years, the individual must pay a fine to extend their associate teaching license or face loss of licensure.
- Professional License (formerly Level 2): To gain a professional license, an associate teacher must complete their EYE process.
- Level 3: The exclusive way of becoming a Level 3 teacher is to complete a Ph.D. in an education-related field or to be a National Board Certified Teacher.
Clearly, becoming a teacher requires overcoming numerous lengthy licensing hurdles that simply diminish the ability of school districts to find the educators necessary to best serve student needs.
Luckily, there are opportunities for further reform in the realm of educator certification that can almost immediately remedy the labor shortage this profession faces.
Occupational licensing reforms:
- Doing away with the three-year limit placed on practicing as an associate teacher as it is obviously not essential for safety or quality if a fine makes it okay for them to continue teaching without completing necessary qualifications in three years.
- Implementing a K-12 teacher interstate licensure compact which would include automatic licensing for individuals who hold a license from another state.
- Allowing candidates who attend a teacher preparation program that is not located in Utah to first apply for a license in Utah, not the location of their attended a teacher preparation program.
- The Utah State Board eliminating licensing requirements for the local education agency (LEA) specific license to school districts and charter schools. This would empower districts and charters to create their own criteria for issuing licenses within their agencies.
- Providing a streamlined method for education paraprofessionals and substitutes to become teachers, bypassing many of the requirements. These individuals have practical experience working with students that can easily translate to the classroom.
Reducing barriers to licensing provides a solution to those who hope to become teachers and to schools that are scrambling to fill open positions. Industry shortages can be quickly remedied as more people are able to enter the profession through streamlined licensing.