Charter schools cite special topics, flexibility as reasons they hire unlicensed teachers

By: - March 12, 2021 6:00 am

One issue not mentioned during the committee hearing Thursday was the unknown number of charter school teachers who have only a substitute teaching license. (Screenshot from Futuro Academy promotional video)

Several charter school leaders are publicly opposing a proposed bill to require charter schools to hire only licensed educators, but they suggested they could support the bill if amended to provide some flexibility.

Assembly Bill 109, which received its first hearing Thursday in the Assembly Committee on Education, would end charter schools’ ability to hire unlicensed teachers. Under existing law, charter schools are allowed to have 30% of their teachers be unlicensed, so long as those teachers are not teaching in certain core subjects.

State Public Charter School Authority Executive Director Rebecca Feiden told lawmakers only 39 of the more than 2,000 charter school teachers lack any type of license with the Nevada Department of Education and that “the majority” of those are in specialized areas like music, dance, photography or digital media.

Futuro Academy Principal Ignacio Prado told lawmakers he is supportive of the concept of the bill but would like to see some flexibility retained so that charter schools can address their unique circumstances or offer specialized education.

He said when Futuro opened, the charter school only offered kindergarten and first grade and therefore could not accommodate a full-time Spanish teacher. So, the school contracted with a college instructor to come to Futuro for a limited number of hours — something he says parents were grateful for.

“As we scaled up, that position is now filled by a licensed teacher employed full time,” he added.

Prado said Futuro currently has no unlicensed teachers in the building.

Three principals from different branches of Doral Academy similarly testified about how hiring seasoned professionals from the arts community has benefitted their arts-focused charter schools and created unique opportunities for their students, including the creation of an after-school violin conservatory.

The Doral principals said they would support the bill if 95% of teachers had to be licensed.

Representatives of two charter schools — Nevada Virtual Academy and Ace Charter — testified as neutral on the bill.

Victor Salcido, executive director of the Charter School Association of Nevada, testified in opposition on the grounds that educators with a ‘business and industry’ license would be ineligible to work at a charter school. People with that type of license are allowed to work at public school districts.

Until that issue was raised by lawmakers during the committee Thursday, Salcido had planned on testifying in neutral on the bill.

Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Clark), who presented the bill, told committee members she would be looking into the business and industry license issue. She also fielded questions about the importance of licensure.

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can teach it,” said Gorelow, adding that skills like classroom management are particularly important with younger grade levels.

Representatives from the Nevada State Education Association spoke in support of the bill.

“AB109 is an important accountability measure to help level the playing field between charter schools and neighborhood public schools while also helping ensure every Nevada student has access to a highly qualified teacher,” said Chris Daly, executive director of NSEA.

Substitute licenses not mentioned

One issue not mentioned during the committee hearing Thursday was the unknown number of charter school teachers who only have a substitute teaching license.

As the Current reported last week, the Charter School Authority does not know how many charter school teachers have only a substitute teaching license, which requires significantly less education and training than full licensure.

Critics of charter schools have long suggested that charter schools rely on the ability to hire unlicensed teachers, which they can hire at a lower pay rate than fully licensed teachers who could get a job at a unionized public school district. But state data on how widespread the practice is in Nevada has not yet been made public.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.