Addressing a shortage: Emergency teacher certification bill moves through committee

Michael Smith
The Oklahoma State Capitol in a 2015 file photo. Senate lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow districts to indefinitely renew emergency teacher certifications. Currently, emergency certifications are only valid for two years.

An effort by lawmakers to issue emergency teaching certificate renewals indefinitely passed a major hurdle on Tuesday. The Senate Education Committee approved SB 1115 with some changes in an effort to address a shortage of certified teachers in Oklahoma public schools.

Current emergency certifications are issued to prospective teachers that may not have completed their training or hold separate certifications. Those emergency or provisional certifications are only valid for up to two years but legislation sponsored by Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, would allow school districts to apply for annual renewals for emergency teachers who have been employed by that district for two years.

“We currently have hundreds of teaching vacancies that districts are desperate to fill. But between fewer people getting teaching degrees and teachers retiring or resigning to pursue careers in other fields, the only option most schools have is to hire emergency certified teachers,” Sharp said in a Tuesday statement.

Under the proposed legislation, a teacher with emergency certification could be considered for an annual extension with support from their school board, a superintendent’s recommendation for an extension, and a work portfolio submitted to the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

“These are individuals who are passionate about helping our students but we’re running into another problem because they only have two years before they have to get fully certified,” Sharp said. “Many don’t want to do that because it’s too expensive and time-consuming, so they quit.”

According to information from the Oklahoma Legislature website, the two-year employment threshold and submitted work portfolio requirements were amendments added by the Senate Education Committee. The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.