Unless there's some flexibility in the long-held practice of taxpayer-funded schools hiring certified teachers, Utah shouldn't authorize charter schools, one Utah County lawmaker argues.
"Without this (flexibility), we're not doing anything different. We're doing the same thing in a different setting," said Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, addressing a legislative task force studying charter schools.After months of polite discussion, the Centennial Charter School Task Force last week forged into the mine field of drafting legislation. Task force members agreed there should be flexibility in teacher certification requirements, but there's seemingly no agreement what "flexibility" means.
Steven Laing, state associate school superintendent of planning and project services, noted state law provides some latitude to permit people not trained as educators to teach in Utah schools.
Doubtless, people who teach in public schools under any of four waiver scenarios are generally knowledgeable about the subject matter they instruct. College schools of education, however, teach assessment, classroom management and how to structure curriculum.
"On day-to-day basis, I believe trained educators have some expertise that is subtle yet extremely important," said Laing, a task force member. "There are some real advantages certified educators bring to the classroom on a day-to-day basis."
Among the 28 states that have charter school laws on the books, many allow waivers of teacher certification. Some state laws require charter schools to bargain with teacher unions.
Task force member Pat Rusk, a fourth-grade teacher and vice president of the Utah Education Association, said she believes certified teachers bring accountability to the classroom.
"I still have a very strong bias. If we're going to use public dollars and these are public schools, we ought to use certified teachers," she said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said parents and students should be informed up front of the qualifications of the people who will teach in charter schools.
Half-joking, Stephenson said the schools should bear a warning label: "This is not your neighborhood public school. Don't count on the government to ensure this is going to work."
If Utah eventually permits charter schools, their success will be contingent on parental choice and involvement, he said.
"We don't know if it's going to work. You (parents) are the ones, through the marketplace, who will determine whether this thing is going to sink or swim. You have to be the judge of that," Stephenson said.
While some task force members lean toward waiving teacher certification requirements for charter schools, committee members agreed that background checks are a must - regardless if a teacher works in a neighborhood school or a charter school.
The task force will meet two more times before making a report to the Education Interim Committee of the Utah Legislature, likely presenting draft legislation.