Nevada charter school students participating in National School Choice Week in 2019. (Photo by Pinecrest Academy)
A watered-down bill aimed at reducing the number of unlicensed teachers employed by Nevada charter schools passed another legislative step Wednesday, but even the lawmakers in support of the bill seem unenthused.
Assembly Bill 109 passed the Senate Education Committee on a party line vote. The bill originally would have required charter schools to only hire licensed teachers, bringing charter schools to the same standard school districts are held to. But the bill was amended by the Assembly Education Committee in March to require that 80% of teachers at charter schools be licensed — a modest increase from the 70% standard currently in statute.
The amended version of AB109 passed the full Assembly 31-9 on April 16.
Two Democrats on the Senate Education Committee Wednesday expressed their dissatisfaction with the amendment.
“I want this on the record: that we have licenses for a reason,” said state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop. “We don’t hire firemen who aren’t certified. We don’t hire electricians and plumbers without a license. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.”
Dondero Loop, a retired educator who sat on the interim committee that originated the bill, said she would vote the amended bill out of committee but wanted lawmakers to reconsider the issue in the interim.
State Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), also a former educator, said she didn’t like that charter schools are held to different licensure standards than district schools. She, too, voted to move the bill forward but suggested revisiting the topic.
Voting against the bill were the committee’s three Republicans, state sens. Joe Hardy, Scott Hammond and Carrie Buck.
Buck, a charter school executive, suggested the use of unlicensed teachers may be related to the funding structure of charter schools. In Nevada, charter schools receive the same amount of per-pupil dollars from the state’s Distributive Schools Account as district schools, but charter schools do not receive dedicated facility funding like district schools.
“Until you have (facility funds) for the charter schools, sometimes, to get by, you have to have a nice, non-licensed teacher,” she said.
The freshman senator sponsored a bill that would have given tax credits to businesses that donated money to charter schools for facility funding. That bill failed to receive a hearing.
Buck also referenced the national teacher shortage, saying “we need to make sure that we have an avenue to bring teachers to classrooms.”
She added, “I’ve not seen any data that links a non-licensed charter teacher to a lowering of student achievement.”
AB109 is expected to affect only a handful of unlicensed teachers in core subjects, which the bill requires be taught by licensed professionals. Those teachers will have a five-year grace period in which to become licensed teachers.
However, as the Nevada Current reported earlier this week, charter schools have extraordinary leeway when it comes to hiring long-term substitutes. Employees classified as long-term substitutes would not be covered by the provisions of AB109. That issue has not been addressed by lawmakers.
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