State superintendent proposes revisions to teachers’ license
On Thursday, the Montana Board of Public Education conducted its first review of State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s proposed changes to regulations governing teacher licensing. The proposals were the result of a months-long regulatory review process undertaken last year by a 24-member task force of teachers, administrators and other education stakeholders, and included a recommendation to offer reciprocity to military spouses authorized to teach in other states.
The regulations to be revised fall under Chapter 57 of the Administrative Rules of the Office of Public Instruction, which outlines the types of educator licenses available in Montana, the requirements necessary to obtain those licenses, and methods for resolving individual disputes over matters. of licenses. For more than two hours, board members and BPR staff went through Arntzen’s recommendations line by line, discussing the various reasons for each. In the case of reciprocity for military spouses, Crystal Andrews, OPI director of educator licensing, cited written testimony from the US Department of Defense noting that barriers to licensing can have a negative financial impact on military families.
“Removing these barriers, creating reciprocity in licensing requirements, and facilitating job placement opportunities can help a military family’s financial stability, hasten the family’s assimilation into its new location, and create a desirable new pool of employers for a state,” Andrews said, adding that such a licensing mechanism would have been used in at least four cases in Montana in 2021.
Arntzen’s proposals also include a series of regulatory changes aimed at expanding the eligibility of teachers, especially those who entered the profession through educator preparation programs that may not be recognized in Montana. The new recommendations would no longer require teachers to complete an accredited program to obtain a Montana license, but would instead recognize any alternative preparatory program approved by a school board or state agency in another state. The OPI’s stated rationale for the change, as well as reducing the required years of experience for teachers of alternative pathways from five years to none, is to remove licensing barriers that may discourage educators from looking for a job in Montana.
“So we trust other states, and any state agency within that state, to validate the quality of the non-traditional alternative educator preparation program?” asked board member Tammy Lacey during OPI’s presentation of the recommendations.
“That’s right,” replied Julie Murgel, OPI’s senior manager of innovation and school improvement, noting that Montana already makes such decisions on a case-by-case basis. Murgel said the board heard such a case at its November meeting, which led the board to approve the license.
One of the most significant changes Arntzen proposes impacts this very process. The Board of Public Education currently oversees unusual cases involving individual disputes over licensing requirements. The board heard 15 such cases last year. Prior to 2017, authority over such cases rested with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Arntzen recommended moving that oversight to his office. The proposal was not among the changes suggested to Arntzen by the Chapter 57 Review Task Force. Murgel explained that the proposal aims to resolve unusual cases more quickly, given that the board only meets once. every two months, and to create an opportunity for individuals to appeal permit denials to the council.
Outgoing Board Member Darlene Schottle recalled that the 2017 oversight change was intended to ensure consistency in this hearing process as OPI superintendents and staff change over time. Schottle added that in the year before the change, questions were raised as to why some unusual cases were approved and others weren’t. Board member Anne Keith asked what Arntzen hoped to get out of the change. In response, OPI chief legal counsel Jake Griffith assured members that Arntzen was “not trying to usurp the power of the board in any way”.
“The idea here is that the Office of Public Instruction could deal with these unusual cases more quickly than having to bring them to council,” Griffith said.
The proposed changes to Chapter 57 are now open for public comment until April 8, and a public hearing will be held in Helena on February 24. The board is expected to take action on the revisions in May.
“I applaud the great work of Montanans who have come together to help with these recommendations,” Arntzen said in an emailed statement announcing the proposals Thursday. “I encourage our Montana parents, teachers, and community leaders to revisit these flexible changes that demand quality education in our Montana public schools.”
During Thursday’s meeting, board members received several other relevant updates on teacher licensing in Montana. Andrews and OPI contractor Zam Alidina updated the board on the latest developments in the agency’s transition to a new teacher licensing system. Alidina assured members that the project is still on track for a June 1 implementation of the new system. In the meantime, Andrews said, the licensing department is accepting paper applications for teacher license renewals as well as new licenses. In the first two weeks of January, she added, her department received more than 200 renewal requests, and so far the process has been “transparent.”
“We knew at the start it would be heavy,” Andrews said. “The mail is coming in very heavy, everyone is eager to get their licenses renewed… But it’s starting to slow down, just a little each day, so we’re going to get caught up where we need to be.”
Later, Andrews reported on teacher licensing activity in 2021. According to this report, the OPI approved 1,646 new educator licenses, an increase of approximately 400 from the previous year. . The total included 1,013 standard teaching licenses, 229 three-year provisional licenses and 99 one-year provisional licenses. The agency also issued 173 emergency employment permits to districts that were unable to fill positions. Of those emergency clearances, 81 were for K-8 elementary teachers.