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North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a number of bills this session to alleviate teacher shortages.

There's one bill that would allow people who don't have a teaching license to teach in non-core subject areas if they've met certain requirements.

Another bill would allow a person with a bachelor's degree in any subject to receive a teaching license if they successfully complete a competency-based test from the nonprofit, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

Becky Pitkin, executive director of the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board — the board that oversees teacher licensing in the state — said the quantity of bills introduced this session is a good sign that lawmakers are heeding concerns about statewide teacher shortages.

"There have been a lot (of bills), and I think that speaks to the fact that there is a teacher shortage, and a number of individuals are trying to help solve it, and that's a good thing," Pitkin said.

Though the conversation is not new, Pitkin said last legislative session there were few bills introduced that addressed the shortage. One of the bills ESPB introduced was House Bill 1098, which increased teacher flexibility across the state by expanding the grades in which they can teach.

"But clearly it wasn't the answer (to the shortage)," Pitkin said.

Currently, all subject areas in the state are deemed to be in "critical shortage," a declaration ESPB and the state Department of Public Instruction make annually.

Pitkin said the board is neutral to House Bill 1287 this session, which would allow the board to grant an initial license to a person with a bachelor's degree who passes a test issued by the American Board of Teacher Excellence.

ESPB opposes House Bill 1531 as written, which would allow the board to grant a year-to-year type of license to a person without a teaching degree to teach in non-core subject areas — areas other than mathematics, science, language arts — if they meet certain requirements, such as relevant work experience.

The main issues ESPB has with the bill is that it doesn't specify how much education the person must have or define work experience, she said.

"We fully understand that there is shortage and something needs to be done, but the board is not convinced that any of these (bills) as they're currently written ... are the exact answer, because there needs to be additional clarification," Pitkin said.

There also have been a couple of bill related to all licensing boards in North Dakota, including ESPB. Senate Bill 2126 would allow these boards to license professionals who move into North Dakota with at least seven years of experience.

Pitkin said ESPB opposes the bill because there's no mention of a background check.

"It's about the safety of our children. We wouldn't know if (the teacher) were under any disciplinary action in another state," she said.

Also, North Dakota has teacher licensing reciprocity — the result of a bill passed during the 2011 session — that allows people to teach in North Dakota if they have a valid license in another state.

Two other bills this session would reduce barriers for military spouses seeking to obtain professional licenses, including a teacher license. ESPB supports Senate Bill 2306 that addresses this, Pitkin said.

Pitkin said she is interested in seeing how legislators respond to the bills after crossover. Though the shortage is an issue, she indicated she doesn't support legislation that would affect the quality of education for North Dakota students.

"There's two things in the mix here: No. 1, we want to put effective teachers in the classroom for all students everywhere, that's very important, but then the other part is that we have a teacher shortage," she said.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter