Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Tuesday that will change the rules and qualifications for who can become a teacher in the state, marking another enacted education measure strongly opposed by Democratic lawmakers.
The governor called the legislation a win for schools, teachers, and students in a written statement. Arizona has struggled with a teacher shortage, and Ducey, along with other backers, say easing the certification requirements will help fix the problem.
"No longer will an outdated process keep qualified, dedicated individuals out of the classroom," Ducey said in the statement. "Instead, principals will now be empowered to make hiring decisions and attract the best individuals to serve our students."
Ducey had mentioned the need to ease teacher certification requirements in his January state of the state address.
The governor quickly signed another contentious education measure expanding the state's private school voucher program in April. That measure, which will extend eligibility to all 1.1 million state schoolchildren, was fervently opposed by the Legislature's Democrats, who believe it will undercut public education and disproportionally benefit wealthy families over those in poor school districts.
Senate Bill 1042 will allow individuals with expertise in certain areas to obtain a "Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate" to become eligible to teach in schools and bypass the state's regular requirements to obtain basic or standard teaching certificates.
Advocates of Republican sponsor Sen. Sylvia Allen's bill say it will allow more qualified teachers to enter classrooms. Allen has said it will not demean any of the state's current teachers.
The bill will require candidates to have taught relevant courses for the last two consecutive years and for at least three years at an accredited college-level institution. They will also need to have an academic degree in their subject area or demonstrate expertise through at least five years of work experience in a relevant field.
Yet the measure will issue the certificate to those who qualify without "requiring an individual to demonstrate professional knowledge proficiency" and would give them at least two years to demonstrate those skills.
Opponents say the legislation will not alleviate the state's teacher shortage and will undermine teacher standards.
Democrat Sen. Steve Farley said during the Senate's final vote that the legislation will dodge the underlying problems in the Arizona's education system, including low funding of schools and low teacher wages that he and teachers say are driving educators out of classrooms.