EDITORIAL: New policy smartly addresses teacher shortage, but should go further

It’s hardly a revelation that Nevada has a shortage of K-12 teachers. The problem dates back to the valley’s boom years. It affects plenty of other states as well.

But the shortage has been particularly acute in the Clark County School District, the country’s fifth-largest system, which found itself 900 instructors short for the 2015-16 school year and has only filled about 200 of those positions to date.

A significant move by the state could help fix that very soon.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Neal Morton, the state Department of Education, hoping to put a dent in the hundreds of classroom vacancies across Nevada, plans to issue temporary licenses to out-of-state teachers who until recently needed to complete a set of requirements before setting foot on a campus. The move was made possible by a change in federal education law in December. Previously, for example, Mr. Morton noted that a special education teacher from California would first have to pass a test showing expertise in the field or complete college courses related to the subject before the state would issue that instructor a license.

With the new federal legislation, Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier this month endorsed emergency regulations to immediately allow educators to teach in a class for up to one year while they finish the requirements.

This is a good step on the state’s path to education reform. It recognizes that the licensing bureaucracy absolutely shares the blame — and has for more than a decade — for Nevada’s inability to hire teachers. But the new regulations, while much needed, don’t go nearly far enough. If it’s OK for a teacher to work for one year without having one particular college credit fulfilled, and that instructor performs competently, then why not a two-year window or a four-year window?

Or how about this: If that teacher proves completely competent in all aspects of the job, save for a requirement of dubious need, why not waive that requirement completely? Granted, teachers can’t just be pulled off the street. There has to be some level of training and vigorous background checks. But the state’s existing licensing structure is only in place to protect current teachers against competition from an influx of perfectly capable educators. It’s protectionism, pure and simple.

Gov. Sandoval has done well with this measure, and Clark County will immediately be the largest beneficiary, as the change is already in effect. But the governor and the Nevada Education Department should push it further. It’s time to take a really comprehensive look at teacher licensing and implement more drastic simplifications across the board.

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