Effective immediately, 734 teachers who taught during academic year 2018-19 could be eligible to get their jobs back now that the State Board of Education has approved a one-time only extension for them to meet licensing requirements. 

These requirements became the center of controversy throughout June when it came to light that a licensing misunderstanding would cost some teachers their jobs. The issue heightened when it was reported that Jackson Public School District would lose 236 teachers because of the misunderstanding, with statewide and national news outlets reporting on Mississippi Today’s findings. 

All told, 1,154 teachers across the state held the license at issue last year and 734 of them did not meet the requirements to come back, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. 

While some in the education field say this measure will greatly impact the odds of getting a certified teacher in the classroom next year, others say action was taken too late to have as significant of an impact.

Essentially, teachers who were using a temporary license issued by the state last year either didn’t realize, weren’t informed, or were unable to meet the necessary license requirements to come back and teach for another year. Now, they have one more year to meet these requirements, such as passing certification exams. 

The Mississippi Department of Education wrote that this is a one-time only extension. 

“I think in general it’s positive, but I do think (MDE) should have figured this out before now. I would question why they’re doing this now with two weeks before school starts instead of two months ago,” said Jon Delperdang, an education advocate and middle school math teacher in the Greenville Public School District. Last year, 26 teachers in the district taught using this license. 

Delperdang said many of them had to either take other jobs or move away as soon as they found out in May that they wouldn’t be eligible to teach again next year. 

“Once it was brought to our attention we began working internally to see if there was any solution or any relief that could potentially be provided. We had to do some research to ensure that we were still complying with state law and other state board policy about licensure,” said Paula Vanderford, Chief Accountability Officer at MDE.

The extension will help those teachers who decided to come back next year as a long-term substitute when they found out they would be ineligible to return as a licensed teacher. Instead of earning a long-term substitute’s wages of $12,500 annually, they will now be able to earn a full teacher’s salary, which is around $36,000. 

“Those people will at least have a full salary and know that the state is supporting them,” Delperdang said. 

Jackson Public School District officials also said they were pleased MDE decided to issue the reprieve.

“This temporary rule will give our District the time we need to coach our teachers to meet all certification requirements. It also provides substantial support to our goal to place a certified teacher in every JPS classroom. We appreciate that the Mississippi Department Education has recognized the urgency of addressing our critical teacher shortage needs in JPS and around the state,” wrote Sherwin Johnson, JPS Executive Director of Public Engagement.

It will also especially help students in the Mississippi Delta, where the critical teacher shortage is the most severe. 

Where the state had 1,067 teacher vacancies in 2018, congressional District 2 (which is primarily the Delta) needed 479 teachers. In the other congressional districts combined there were 588 teacher vacancies.

These vacancies don’t account for the number of long-term subs, uncertified teachers, or classes taught primarily by computer programs and not teachers. During 2017-2018, some Delta school districts had as much as 30 percent non-certified teachers on their staff. 

Eddie Anderson, Executive Director of the Delta Area Association for Improvement of School is well versed with this crisis and works daily to combat it.

“The move by MDE to give districts the opportunity to hire persons with a bachelor’s degree to fill some of these voids as we work to recruit and grow teachers is phenomenal.  This will improve teaching and learning for our children,” Anderson wrote in a statement. “This will also give districts another year to continue to recruit fully certified teachers and to help many of these teachers with one-year licenses become fully certified.”

Kayleigh Skinner contributed to this report. 

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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.