SALT LAKE CITY — A member of the Utah State Board of Education called into question Thursday significant numbers of people hired to teach in Utah public schools who do not have teaching licenses nor are they enrolled in programs to earn teaching credentials.
Each month, the board considers temporary authorizations of people hired by school districts and charter schools who are "underqualified," have expired teaching licenses or they are certified out of state, or the state's licensing agency is awaiting university paperwork to verify their educational attainment, or other issues.
Board member Linda Hansen said she is particularly concerned by the number of people in Utah teaching classrooms who are not only underqualified but not attempting to obtain teaching credentials.
"We've had parents come before us before saying, 'We've got someone with no experience at all teaching our special ed kids,'" said Hansen.
As she has delved into it further, school districts or charter schools report that they were unable to find candidates who are licensed school teachers, or "this is the best candidate we could find" so that's who was hired, Hansen said.
"I don't know what the answer is, but it is concerning because I believe that parents believe that all the teachers are qualified that are teaching their kids. I don't think they would ever believe that they weren't. The fact that we're approving teachers that aren't is a little scary to me, " she said.
Among the 3,676 temporary authorizations approved by the State School Board since October, one-third or 1,230 were employees categorized as "underqualified— not enrolled in program."
Another 1,079 were categorized as "underqualified — enrolled in appropriate program."
The State School Board has no oversight on the hiring decisions of school district or charter schools but it does oversee educator licensing and some board members wondered aloud if not approving the authorizations was an overreach.
"I wonder if we're stepping on toes," said board member Lisa Cummins.
Board member Cindy Davis, who has taught in the Alpine School District and served as school principal, said public schools struggle to find qualified candidates when there is an upturn in the economy and workers have more options for employment.
"In a poor economy, you really don't have this problem because there are a lot of licensed teachers to hire and in a good economy, you're begging people," she said.
Board member Alisa Ellis said small, rural schools are hard-pressed to find qualified candidates for teaching openings and the state board needs to respect that they followed the state's requirements as best as they could to meet their staffing needs.
The board's vice chairwoman, Brittney Cummins, said school districts and charter schools "followed our current structure" in hiring employees so the board should approve the authorizations.
However, Brittney Cummins said the board should bring the issue back at a later time to discuss the implications of current policy and a new licensing rule set to go into effect in the 2020-21 school year in which the board will not be asked to approve authorizations, but they will act when teachers seek renewals of local education agency licenses granted by school districts and charter schools.
Board member Jennifer Graviet, a licensed school teacher who teaches junior high English and creative writing, said she understands that charter schools and school districts need personnel, but "at what risk?"
"I really think that when a parent sends a child to a classroom, they believe it's a licensed educator, it's somebody with experience. I've been in the classroom and I know we get teachers who have no experience and there are a bunch of kids, I think, that are put at risk. I do think this is a bigger issue we need to talk about but it feels like if we're going to say we approve, we're taking a big risk," Graviet said.
The board voted to approve the authorizations submitted by 10 school districts and 10 charter schools.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated the Utah State Board of Education met Friday. It met Thursday.