Teacher Licensure in Tennessee Needs Reform

Sometimes government action creates unintended consequences. For example, there was legislation several years ago that prohibited the Tennessee Commissioner of Education from issuing any waivers on licensure requirements. The statute 49-1-201 was the outcome of that legislation.

It was always questionable as to why the regulation was needed in the first place. It tied the hands of the Department of Education and only served to hurt educators. It is necessary that the state change this statute as soon as possible. However, it was stuck into a pretty comprehensive statute and policymakers simply didn’t figure that it mattered. They were wrong.

In 2016, we were made aware of the issue. However, we were already passed the bill filing deadline and were unable to address the issue legislatively at that time. We promised the educator who made us aware of the problem that it would be a high priority for our 2017 legislative agenda.

Subsequently, we worked with Representative Joe Pitts and Senator Jim Tracy to address the issue. These gentlemen immediately recognized the problem and worked to address the issue, demonstrating how to work across the partisan divide and how government is supposed to work. If only the federal government could be so efficient.

According to the current statute, ultimately, the educator is responsible for maintaining the license and ensuring the district submitted the required information. This seems unfair. If a school district fails to follow up as was the case with one Level 5 teacher —a single mom, with two children under the age of five —there is NO appeal process. The district suffers no penalty and the teacher has to begin the licensure process all over again and re-take the Praxis exam. This is not in the best interest of teachers or students.

Even if the Tennessee Department of Education empathizes with the teacher there is currently no recourse. The district, in this case simply did not follow through to make sure everything was in order. While a rare occurrence, it is estimated that nearly 10 highly committed educators a year lose their license due to no fault of their own. Then have no recourse to resolve this issue. And there is no ramification if the LEA does not follow through. Again, the state has its hands tied by the statute, and we are extremely frustrated as well. That is why we worked with Rep. Pitts and Senator Tracy to address this issue with House Bill 111 and Senate Bill 661.

The easiest path to address the problem is for the Tennessee General Assembly to simply delete the provision (subdivision (d) (1) (O)) that forbids the Commissioner of Education from addressing licensure issues. We entrust the Commissioner of Education with billions of taxpayer dollars, but do not allow her or her staff to help an educator, that is penalized because of faulty paperwork?

It is time to address the issue and rectify bad policy decisions that created unintended consequences. Let Representative Pitts and Senator Tracy know you appreciate them for their leadership on this issue. And ask your legislators to sign on in support of common sense legislation.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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