The bill, which was filed Wednesday, would eliminate testing requirements for middle school and high school teachers who already have been licensed in another state. Currently, out-of-state teachers have a year to take a test to earn a license in North Carolina. The bill would not affect elementary and special education teachers, who would still have to be tested.
Lawmakers, including Rep. Douglas Yongue of Laurinburg, one of the bill's sponsors, said something needs to be done to help fill the more than 11,000 teacher vacancies bedeviling the state every year. Yongue and others say the problem will only get worse when the No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to show that all teachers in core academic subjects are "highly qualified" by next summer.
But not everyone is keen on the bill.
Gov. Mike Easley has expressed opposition, saying the state should be "raising standards ... not lowering them." But state education officials counter that out-of-state teachers who have not taken the North Carolina test are preferable to substitute teachers, some of whom only have a high school diploma.
"It is all well and good to take a stand, but the bottom line is that we're short on teachers," Armstrong said. "Lets get on with making these people available and making teaching positions attractive."
Armstrong said the school system has pushed hard to fill its own teacher vacancies by offering signing bonuses, higher supplements and working with local governments and businesses to offer incentives to teach in Robeson County. That effort has attracted about 300 new hires this school year, leaving five vacancies.
Armstrong said the fact that many of those teachers do not come from North Carolina should not be discounted. State education officials say that the testing requirement is a disincentive for teachers considering moving to North Carolina.
"Without those people, we would be in real trouble," Armstrong said. "It is hard to say what the actual shortage would be, but it is safe to say we might have some 200 classrooms without a teacher."
May help compete
Armstrong said the bill may help North Carolina compete with other states that have full reciprocity agreements with each other, where no additional tests for teachers are required.
But he said what the state really needs to do is improve teacher pay and working conditions. He said statistics show that only about one third of students who earn a degree in education are still teaching five years after graduation.
"There is a reason for that - salaries and working conditions," Armstrong said. "Those are both factors controlled by the state. If the state can't or won't address those issues, then they will have to look for other solutions."