Kansas State Board of Education to vote on allowing ‘innovative’ districts to hire unlicensed teachers

The Kansas State Board of Education on Thursday will vote on whether to allow designated school districts to hire unlicensed individuals for teaching positions.

Kansas passed a law in 2013 that allows up to 29 schools in the state to receive an “Innovative District” designation, which enables them to be exempted from certain state laws in the pursuit of innovation in education.

Six districts currently hold that status and make up the Coalition of Innovative School Districts. Together they are asking the board to create a Specialized Teaching Certificate that would permit unlicensed personnel to teach in the classroom — or teach a subject that they are not licensed in.

The Blue Valley, Concordia, Hugoton, Kansas City, Marysville and McPherson districts are the six innovative districts behind the push and, if approved, would be the only districts to take advantage of relaxed regulations. At least five of their applications to obtain the innovative designation stated a preference to relax teacher licensure regulations.

Rural western districts, such as Hugoton in the southwest corner of the state, said fewer restrictions would allow them to better recruit, develop and retain instructors. Meanwhile, more urban districts, like Blue Valley in the Kansas City area, argued that more flexibility would increase innovation and education quality.

“We want to be held to outputs and results, not inputs and oppressive rules only sufficed by arduous and expensive course work from colleges hundreds of miles away from our district,” Hugoton’s application reads.

The proposed Specialized Teaching Certificate would require that anyone hired without proper licensure would have to pass a background check and receive approval from the local board of education and the Coalition of Innovative School Districts.

The Kansas Association of School Boards is supportive of the proposal. Scott Rothschild, a spokesman for the organization, said “it allows the administrators and the local board members to tailor their teaching needs with what the community wants in their education system.”

However, Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the “deprofessionalization” of education is a “slippery slope.”

“This is unraveling the quality of teaching we put in our schools,” he said. “We’re going to be experimenting on our kids with untrained, unlicensed people.”

Last year, the state board approved regulations that would allow districts to hire individuals with expertise in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — but no education degree — to teach in those subjects. As long as they have a related degree, have worked in the field for five years and will teach only the subject they have expertise in, they will receive a one-year, renewable license.

The board will discuss the licensure proposal at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Landon State Office Building, 900 SW Jackson St., in Topeka. The board will also continue its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Friday.