A new state law that allows uncertified teachers to teach in charter schools sparked controversy Monday on Louisiana’s top school board.
Walter Lee, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, noted that charter schools are public schools, and that traditional public schools generally require teachers to be certified.
“If it’s good for one why isn’t it good for the other?” asked Lee, who is superintendent of the DeSoto Parish school system.
“Why should we have such a difference?” he said. “They are both public schools.”
But Chas Roemer, a BESE member who lives in Baton Rouge, said the change is in line with the goal of allowing charter schools to try new approaches to improving student performance. “There are going to be differences and there should be differences,” Roemer said.
The abolition of the teacher certification requirement was included in one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bills to make sweeping changes in public school operations.
The measure under scrutiny, House Bill 976, is aimed at paving the way for a major expansion of charter schools, which are public schools run by non-governmental boards.
The credentials issue sparked little comment during legislative debates but generated some from teachers who work in traditional public schools.
Certified teachers have to earn a college degree, finish with at least a 2.5 out of a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and pass a national teacher exam.
For years state education leaders pushed to increase the percentage of certified teachers in public schools and said it was a key factor in the quality of instruction.
Under previous rules, at least 75 percent of charter school teachers were supposed to be certified.
But state Superintendent of Education John White said views on certification have changed.
White said charter schools face tougher oversight than traditional public schools, and can be closed after four years.
Charter schools are supposed to offer innovative classrooms without the red tape common in traditional public schools.
The state has about 100 charter schools serving around 45,000 students in 15 parishes, included East Baton Rouge Parish.
The issue surfaced during a BESE committee meeting in which new state laws are being spelled out in state policies.
Lottie Beebe, a BESE member from Breaux Bridge, said she is a major advocate of teacher certification.
Beebe said allowing uncertified teachers to work in charter schools will make it easier for those schools to fill jobs.
Charter school teachers would still be required to have a bachelor’s degree.
Penny Dastugue, who is president of BESE, noted that there is nothing to prevent charter schools from requiring that teachers have a master’s degree, too.
BESE member Holly Boffy, of Youngsville, said certification is a chance to raise the bar for educators.
But Roemer said the issue of teacher credentials should be left to individual charter schools.
Some who even lack an undergraduate degree could do a good job in the classroom, he said.
Roemer said charter schools should be given flexibility, then be held accountable for how students fare in the classroom.