Since the beginning of the current school year, Arkansas students and teachers have been back in school, using different formats of learning depending on COVID-19 conditions. Public officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have advocated for continued in-person instruction, but virtual instruction has also been offered.
Many public health officials, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci have also increasingly called for continued in-person schooling. However, there have been teacher shortages due to COVID-19 quarantines.
“It appears to me, from the national commentary, that there is a growing national recognition that our schools are important to stay open,” Hutchinson said.
“Sure, we have to switch to virtual from time to time, but schools staying open is increasingly important for the education and well-being of our students. Teachers are critical to this effort. We’ve had to upon rely on subs – substitute teachers. We’ve had to rely upon additional staff. Sometimes schools have had to close because of the shortage of staff and teachers.”
As a result, the Arkansas Department of Education is seeking to temporarily waive fees for new teachers applying for licenses in the state.
Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer announced on Tuesday, Dec. 1 that the department would be requesting approval from the Arkansas State Board of Education to waive application fees for first-time teaching license candidates in Arkansas and to expedite paperwork. This application fee for new licensees is $75.
This waiver would apply to both new teachers completing their programs and teachers coming from out of state through reciprocity. The teachers will still be required to complete background checks and an Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry form.
According to Pfeffer, the need for more teachers is shown through the school modification data that the Department of Education receives and analyzes. “Every time we look at these modifications, more often than not, it is staffing issues due to quarantine that are the main driver when districts have to pivot to remote learning. Because of that, as the Governor stated, we are going to be seeking approval from the State Board of Education to waive the $75 license application fee,” she said.
By waiving the fee, state officials hope to increase the number of new teachers who can quickly fill the pipeline into schools. The waiver period is projected to last from Dec. 1, 2020 through April 1, 2020.
“In some cases, there may be vacancies that they fill at the semester. In other cases, they may take on the role as substitute teachers,” Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer said that during the same period last year, the Department of Education had approximately 500 license seekers. “This really is a significant opportunity for us to be able to more quickly get new teachers able to be in the classroom, able to be employed and able to provide some relief to our schools that may need that additional personnel,” she said.
This waiver initiative is similar to one that the state government launched for nursing students in 2020. Recently, Hutchinson was asked about nursing students who had previously paid their application fees in 2020 while the waiver program was in effect. During the press conference, he said that those nurses would be refunded their application fees.