$57 million in federal funding at risk if lawmakers waive certification requirements for teachers 

Photo by DenisTangneyJr, New Hampshire State House.

An effort to waive certification and licensure requirements for part-time teachers and paraprofessionals could put $57 million in federal funding at risk, according to special education experts in New Hampshire. 

New Hampshire lawmakers are considering two bills allowing individuals who work in public schools less than 30 hours per week to teach without a license or teacher certification. But, federal disability laws require teachers to be “appropriately and adequately prepared and trained” and “have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities.” 

Several states have already tried reducing teacher certification requirements but were warned by federal officials that they couldn’t do that with special education teachers. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) contends: 

“…The [State Education Agency] may not waive the special education or related services personnel certification or licensure requirements on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.”

Read the memo: Memorandum: OSEP 22-01 — Personnel Qualifications under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Oct. 2022 

Under IDEA, the federal law that governs special education for students with disabilities, special education teachers must obtain full state certification in the field and pass state licensing exams. Schools may hire teachers who are pursuing certification, but they must be in an alternate route while receiving mentorship and high-quality professional development. And, they must have at least a bachelor’s degree. 

The two bills, HB 1298 and SB 374, are in the House Education Committee. The NH Senate has already passed SB 374, but it’s being held by the House while they work through their own version. 

HB 1298 faced sharp public opposition at its hearing in February, with 211 people opposed and only 5 in support. The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation for the bill on Monday, March 18, and then it will be scheduled for a vote by the full House chamber. 

Federal law is clear: Teachers must be certified

As a condition of receiving federal IDEA funding, states must sign an annual agreement that their education departments adhere to federal requirements. One of those requirements is that teachers who work with students with disabilities are “appropriately and adequately prepared and trained,” as required by state and federal law. 

Commissioner Frank Edelblut signed the attestation on May 23, 2023. 

Certification waivers could exacerbate teacher shortages

Waiving certification and licensure requirements for teachers won’t solve long-term teacher shortages and could create even more barriers, according to experts. 

Underprepared teachers are more likely to leave the field, creating a revolving door of staff. And, eliminating entry requirements for teachers could hurt student outcomes for all students, especially students with disabilities. 
“Lowering standards and abbreviating training are stop-gap measures that will exacerbate attrition and contribute to poor student outcomes,” according to the CEEDAR Center at the University of Florida, an organization that provides technical assistance to states and districts. 

What works: Long-term solutions

A two-year study of New Hampshire teacher recruitment and retention strategies affirms what national and state research has found for decades: there are a number of strategies that lawmakers can pursue to increase the number of high-quality and well-prepared teachers in New Hampshire classrooms. A study led by Reaching Higher NH and Women Educators Leading Learning (WELL) underscored the importance of effective, long-term teacher recruitment and retention strategies.  

The strategies include: 

  1. Ensuring that teachers and school staff, regardless of where they teach, receive fair and competitive pay. New Hampshire must ensure that its school funding formula provides school districts with the resources they need to pay teachers and school staff fairly.
  2. Investing in effective retention strategies, like mentoring, professional learning and growth, and establishing collaborative leadership structures and practices.
  3. Strengthening and diversifying the teaching profession. All students benefit when teachers and school staff represent the rich diversity of our communities. Preparation programs like teacher residencies and Grow Your Own (GYO) programs create opportunities to recruit local educators and strengthen long-term retention. According to research, nearly half of the new teachers in residency programs across the country are people of color.
  4. Improving recruitment strategies. Eliminating barriers for future teachers to pursue pathways to education is critical to making sure that New Hampshire has a strong, well-qualified teacher workforce now and in the future. Scholarships, grants, loan forgiveness, and other incentive programs can lessen the financial burden of pursuing a career in education and encourage teachers to stay in the state.
  5. Respecting teaching as a profession. Well-qualified teachers and school leaders are highly trained and experts in their field. The public overwhelmingly supports public schools and teachers, and trusts them more than almost any other profession. We must ensure that our schools are well-supported and are affirming places for our students, teachers, and staff, and that they are valued in our communities and in our state as a whole.

Read the rest of the study here: What Impacts the Educator Workforce? Results from the New Hampshire School Staff & Educator Transition Survey

New Hampshire lawmakers have already begun implementing several of the recommendations of the study committee. Last year, they approved a program that would provide student loan forgiveness for teachers who teach in rural and underserved schools. This year, they are considering the creation of an induction program for new teachers that emphasizes mentorship and partnerships with the community, which has been shown to increase teacher attrition and job satisfaction. 

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