Arizona Legislature moving to add new teacher certification paths

The state Capitol building in Phoenix is pictured. (Photo by Visitor7, cc-by-sa-3.0,

The state Capitol building in Phoenix is pictured. (Photo by Visitor7, cc-by-sa-3.0,

PHOENIX – The Arizona Legislature could soon approve changes to the teacher certification process designed to address a shortage of classroom instructors by allowing more people without regular teacher training to lead a class.

The Republican-backed proposal has already passed the Senate and was given initial approval after a vigorous House debate on Monday over objections from Democrats, who said it will allow unqualified people to teach.

The proposal would expand a 2017 law that allows people with experience in the private sector to get a “subject-matter certificate” to teach in grades 6-12.

The change removes the grade restrictions, allowing someone with outside experience and a college degree to also teach kindergarten through grade 5.

Arizona, like many other states, has an ongoing teacher shortage and backers say the proposal is one more tool to address that problem.

“This is not about watering down the standards to become a teacher and to receive a certificate,” Mesa Republican Rep. Michelle Udall said. “It's about additional pathways to get people into the teaching profession that are passionate about the subjects that they teach.”

Democrats point to low teacher pay, large class sizes, micromanaging by the Legislature and the politicization of classroom curriculum for driving qualified teachers from the profession. Arizona has some of the lowest teacher pay in the nation despite big raises in recent years and this year the GOP-controlled Legislature is advancing policies to increase scrutiny of school library books and boosting the rights of parents to review materials used by teachers.

Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding, the minority leader, said creating more “flexibility” for aspiring mid-career professionals to step into the classroom to address the teacher shortage won't help.

Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler agreed, noting that there are 180,000 qualified and certified teachers in the state who are not in the classroom because of the low pay, class sizes that are the highest in the nation and other issues. Adding unqualified teachers will make the problem worse, she said.

“The solution is not dumbing down the standards,” Butler said. “The solution is doing what is needed, using the money that we have to make sure that our teachers are qualified teachers and in the classroom teaching.”

Gov. Doug Ducey pushed the special certification for teachers in higher grades in 2017, saying it would add to the pool of people able to teach. But the proposal did little to solve the teacher shortage.

The bill also adds some new teacher training programs. It awaits a formal House vote before returning to the Senate because of minor changes. It passed the Senate with no support from minority Democrats.

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