MATSIKOUDIS: New Jersey Can Remedy the Teacher Shortage By Easing Regulations and Eligibility

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Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis serves as a member of the Assembly Education Committee and the Joint Committee on Public Schools. She represents parts of Morris, Somerset and Union counties in legislative district 21.

It’s time for our state government to combat the teacher shortage head-on.

Facing a desperate need to catch up in school after suffering major learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing our students need is to deal with overfilled classrooms or fewer academic opportunities due to our state’s inability to find enough qualified teachers.

As the profession becomes bogged down by bureaucracy, more of our dedicated teachers are making the difficult decision to retire early and fewer students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in education. In 2020, education degrees comprised just 6.9% of all degrees awarded in New Jersey — a 41% decrease from 2009.

It’s important that our state invests in our public schools and ensure that our educators receive highly competitive pay, but it’s also abundantly clear that simply throwing more money at this problem will not present a coherent solution.

After all, New Jersey already ranks among the highest average starting teacher salary in the nation and spends more per pupil on K-12 education than any other state besides New York.

There is no single silver-bullet solution to fixing the teacher shortage, but New Jersey can start by removing burdensome regulations, granting greater hiring flexibility to school districts, and creating an easier path for those looking to become teachers in the Garden State. A number of bipartisan proposals in the Legislature are designed to address each of these issues.

The legislature should pass a bill eliminating the requirement that public school employees must live in New Jersey. While it’s certainly a laudable goal to hire state residents whenever possible, it does not make sense to prohibit schools from hiring qualified and interested workers.

In 2018, the state removed the residency requirement for NJ Transit operators and engineers in an effort to fill critical staff positions and lessen inconveniences for commuters. The agency went on to hire 102 new locomotive engineers and 386 new bus operators after the requirement was eliminated.

In June, the state legislature took an important first step to eliminate a burdensome teacher performance assessment known as edTPA. However, we must do more to ensure that student teachers have far fewer unnecessary hoops to jump through before entering the workforce. To be clear, this does not mean lowering the high standards that guarantee New Jersey’s students receive top-quality instruction. But it does require taking a serious look at which rules and requirements are redundant.

The state code that governs the licensure and certification of educators is more than 170 pages long. Buried in that text is an arbitrary rule that caps the number of education credits students can transfer from a two-year school to a four-year institution at just six.

We know that our accredited county and community colleges are more than capable of providing students with quality instruction. It’s time for the legislature to pass a measure that would repeal the cap and allow transfer students the flexibility to receive an education degree in a timely and affordable manner. Rescinding this policy will not lower the number of college credits needed to become an educator, it will simply save students from having to redo coursework they have successfully completed at another school.

New Jersey’s regulatory maze sends the deeply unfortunate message that the state is not urgently seeking to attract new educators at a time when we need them more than ever. With the right public policy approach, combining deregulation with a greater commitment to working with higher education institutions to bolster their teaching programs, we can incentivize more people to become educators here in New Jersey, and finally address our teacher shortage.

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