The State University of New York is considering letting its charter schools create their own teacher certification programs, a proposal that teachers unions and education advocacy groups say endangers students and the teaching profession.
New York State's public schools are grappling with a teacher shortage that many blame on the stringent requirements to become certified in the state. Joe Belluck, chair of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, said it is the same for many of the 167 charter schools he oversees.
"They are not able to fill the spots in their schools with certified teachers," Belluck said.
If approved, SUNY's charter schools could hire applicants with a bachelors degree and only 30 credit hours of study in education. Public school teachers must have a graduate degree in education.
Organizations like the United University Professions say these watered-down requirements will sacrifice the quality of education for charter school students. Maria Bautista from the Alliance for a Quality Education said the policy was racist.
"We know they're going to disproportionately impact black and brown children," Bautista said at a recent SUNY Charter School Committee hearing. "You would never have uncertified teachers teach your children. Why is it OK for black and brown children? That is not OK."
Bronx teacher Aixa Rodriguez said the change would also hurt public school educators.
"Knowing that the teachers may not have the same have to go through the same hoops, the same professionalism also alarms us because when those kids leave or those schools close or something happens, we have to receive those kids again and whatever gaps in their knowledge, whatever challenges that they have we're going to have to remediate," Rodriguez said. "We are alarmed about the possibility that this could happen and what it could do to our profession."
But Belluck said this change could actually open access to teaching jobs to very qualified, skilled professionals.
"That, for example, could include college professors who are teaching in a college level - some may even have a PhD that did not go through the teacher certification steps," Belluck said. "A charter school right now would be prohibited from hiring someone in that situation. They would be prohibited from hiring a scientist who was a high achiever in the field."
The SUNY charter schools committee is currently taking public comments on the proposal.
Most SUNY charter schools are in New York City, but several are located in upstate - including one in Ithaca and another on the way in Syracuse.