TRENTON – The Senate voted to pass two bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Renee Burgess, Senator Linda Greenstein, and Senator Shirley Turner that are aimed at easing access to teacher certifications for qualified prospective teachers.
The first bill, S-3890, sponsored by Senators Ruiz and Burgess, would prohibit restricting the number of semester-hour credits completed at a county college that may be accepted toward meeting the requirements for teacher certification. The reform would streamline the path for qualified students to meet certification requirements and become teachers.
“Removing unnecessary roadblocks for community college students interested in pursuing their teacher certification and joining the teaching profession is one small step toward supporting our dedicated students and fixing the broader teaching staffing crisis,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Current restrictions on county college coursework aren’t making our teachers better prepared, but rather adding barriers for students who want to join the profession.”
Current State Board of Education regulations provide that, for most candidates for teacher certification, no more than six credits earned in the field of professional education at a county college can be applied toward meeting teacher certification requirements. As a consequence, students who completed more than six credits in the field at a county college prior to enrolling at a four-year institution often have to repeat coursework, delaying program completion, adding additional costs for the student, and delaying their entrance into the teaching profession.
“Addressing our teacher shortage has been a priority, and removing restrictions like this one regarding county college credits can help us achieve that goal,” said Senator Burgess (D-Essex). “The cost of education is an immense barrier for students who want to become teachers, especially for those who begin their education at a county college. This bill will help reduce that cost, and recognize the equal value of education received at a county college.”
The second bill, S-3883, sponsored by Senators Greenstein and Turner, would require the State Board of Education to authorize an alternate route to expedite the teacher certification of persons who are employed or have been employed by a school district as a paraprofessional, or an instructional assistant.
“In New Jersey, and across the country, we are facing a major teacher staffing crisis in our classrooms, especially in critical shortage areas such as math and science,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We need to do everything we can to ensure our schools are well-staffed with qualified professionals to deliver best-in-the-nation education. This bill will help us to streamline the certification process without compromising on quality, and build back the numbers of trained educators in our schools.”
Under the bill, the alternate route for paraprofessionals would include, in addition to any other requirements set by the State Board of Education, a formula for applying a candidate’s accrued direct classroom service to any student teacher requirements. The alternate route would additionally include a requirement that the school district in which the candidate is currently employed make every reasonable effort to permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching while continuing employment as a paraprofessional or instructional assistant.
“We need to bring more teachers into the classroom, and we need to do so with haste,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “The cohort of existing paraprofessionals provides a great opportunity to help meet this growing demand, and they represent a tremendous untapped resource that can be utilized under the right conditions and requirements that the Board of Education will put into place.”
The bills were both passed unanimously.