Public preschool teachers are one of the only educator groups that aren’t required to be licensed.
A bill held over Tuesday by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division for possible omnibus bill inclusion could change that.
Advocates, including Rebecca Lewis, a preschool teacher, said the bill would put them on equal footing with their educator colleagues, create more uniformity, and ensure that they’re effectively teaching the state’s earliest learners.
“Every other teacher working with infants through adults in public schools need to have a license. It should also be mandatory for those working with our earliest learners in our public preschool programs,” Lewis said.
She went on to say that not having licenses has impacts beyond student outcomes. It also impacts workplace protections and could dissuade potential preschool teachers from entering the field.
“My school district, South Washington County, no longer requires licenses for preschool teachers because of state law,” she said. “Not only does it lower our standards for our preschool teachers, it means we no longer have a contract because we can’t belong to our union any more. This makes it easier for a school district to lower our wages and benefits.”
Kristen Stuenkel, director of community education at Columbia Heights Public Schools, agreed licensure it an important tool in ensuring teacher effectiveness, however, she cautioned the proposal would have unintended consequences.
“We are supportive of preschool teacher licensure, and HF1512, if several additional changes are also made so that our current teaching staff is valued and our participating families are supported,” she said.
Explaining the proposal would result in the termination and replacement of several current preschool teachers, Stuenkel requested “that these teachers be ‘grandfathered’ into the program.” Additionally, the new licensure requirements could cause program cost increases and potentially make it unaffordable for families.
“If preschool teachers negotiate a comparable wage, the cost of preschool will go up,” Stuenkel said. “This could result in families having to choose programs that do not require teacher licensure based on affordability concerns.”