by Abeer Javed, Idaho Education Association Organizer
Last Friday, the House Education Committee passed HB221, which would essentially allow districts to take anyone off the street with a college degree and put them in classrooms. While we understand the need to fill teacher shortages, especially in smaller rural school districts, the last thing our children need is unqualified individuals in charge of their education. Do legislators honestly think a business or philosophy major with zero teaching experience will be able to teach a kindergarten class of more than 20 students successfully?
Among those who provided relevant testimony Friday was Shannon McNall, who recounted, “I am a secondary education teacher, and when I go into a kindergarten classroom to substitute, I am an absolute mess. And I hold an education degree. I went in one time, and I tried to teach kindergarteners, and at the end of the day, I was in tears.” Again, this is from someone with an actual education degree, just not at the corresponding school level!
The education committee keeps bringing up how this will help rural districts. Do you know who it won’t help? Rural students. Fully certified teachers will still teach the vast majority of students in affluent urban districts where educator pay is competitive. However, cash-strapped rural communities are the ones who will be disproportionately affected; their classrooms will be filled by individuals who want a paycheck and lack any passion for education. The inequity between rural and urban school districts is already alarmingly bad—HB 221 would make it worse. As Laura Lemmon put it in her testimony against the bill Friday, “It also seems to me that for the legislature to delegate the certification process to the local level would be at odds with your constitutional duty to provide a general and uniform system of public schools.”
To top it all off, how many rural districts have unemployed college graduates just waiting around and willing to step into a classroom of 20 or more students for a meager starting salary? And if this doesn’t close the teacher gap, then what next? Will next year’s House Education Committee suggest hiring high school graduates to teach our next generation? While we’re at it, why doesn’t the House fix our physician shortage by allowing any college graduate to prescribe medicine and perform surgery!
The educator shortage is not a new problem. A third of educators certified to teach in Idaho move out of state in search of better benefits. The need is a direct result of us being 51st in the nation when it comes to funding. Many of the bills proposed by the legislature during this session are simply distractions–a way for legislators to convince Idahoans they are taking steps toward improving our public schools. Don’t be fooled; these policies are a cop-out! Unless the people representing us and spending our tax dollars are willing to tackle the funding problem head-on, band-aid strategies like this will cause more harm to Idahoan students than good.
In the words of Laura Lemmon again, “As a parent, I want to ensure my children are being taught by qualified teachers, and I’m sure all parents throughout the state would agree.” Lowering the bar for teacher qualifications is not the answer. Unfortunately, it seems like the House Education Committee neither cares what parents want nor what their children need.