Getting a teaching license may become easier for some, but more expensive for all

? Obtaining a teacher’s license in Kansas is about to get a lot easier for those who teach in particular areas, but they will also become more expensive under plans being considered by the Kansas State Board of Education.

During its regular monthly meeting this week, the board received a staff report recommending either a $12 or $15 increase across the board to obtain an initial license or renew an existing one.

That would bring the cost to either $57 or $60 for a new license, and to either $66 or $69 for a renewal.

The fees are intended to cover the cost of operating the department’s teacher licensure and accreditation program, but state officials told the board this week that the current fee structure falls short of the actual cost by about $200,000 a year.

The board is expected to decide on a new fee structure at its June meeting.

But the other big question looming for prospective teachers is about who will be eligible for a license, and what sort of qualifications they those applicants must have.

For the past several months, the board had been discussing a plan to open the door for people with training and professional experience in certain technical fields, as well as special education, to teach in public school classes without having to go through a university-based teacher preparation program.

After months of preparation, however, the Kansas Legislature stepped in last month and passed a law that goes even further in some areas by opening the door to people with bachelor’s degrees and work experience in the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.

Under the law, which was part of the school finance bill that was meant to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling, people will no longer need an education degree from a college or university to teach at the secondary level if they meet one of three criteria:

• They have a valid out-of-state license and pass the licensure tests required by the state board.

• They have at least a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of related work experience in the area of science, technology, engineering or math.

• Or they hold an industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession and have at least five years of related work experience.

“The department was in middle of changing many of the licensing regulations anyway,” said Department of Education attorney Scott Gordon. “We were literally halfway through the process when the bill became law.”

Although the new law takes effect July 1, it also requires the state board to enact rules and regulations to implement them, a process that typically takes several months.

Meanwhile, state officials told the board Tuesday, news of the state’s new law has already spread around the country, and school districts are already receiving applications from out-of-state teachers, and those with no teaching degree but professional work experience. And some districts are wondering which rules will go into effect, and when.

Lawrence school district officials said “are not seeing appreciably more out-of-state applicants than we normally do.” They said 8.5 percent of current applicants list out-of-state addresses. And of 66 new hires to date, six have out-of-state addresses.

But Gordon said the department is hoping everything can be worked out by July 1.

The board voted Tuesday to submit its own proposed licensing changes for review by the Attorney General’s Office and Department of Administration. And while those reviews are pending, Gordon said, the agency plans to draft another set of regulations reflecting the changes enacted by the Legislature.

Gordon said the hope is to have those changes enacted at least on a temporary basis by July 1, although the process of adopting permanent regulations could take longer.

But while those changes are pending, Gordon said, the agency advises local districts to be cautious about making hiring decisions.

“I always advise districts that they shouldn’t hire anyone until they have a license in hand,” he said. “Sometimes you hire someone thinking they’ll get a license, and then they don’t. But we don’t make hiring decisions. That’s a risk of the local district.”