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Veterans confused, educators concerned over bill that would let vets teach without background in education

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Posted at 7:15 PM, Oct 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-04 20:16:28-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bill in the Ohio Senate that is aiming to curb the teacher shortage by allowing veterans to become educators without them having a background in education is leaving both veterans and educators concerned.

The bill would allow school districts to greatly lessen the requirements for veterans to become teachers. Some servicemembers would be able to teach without having a degree, a license or a background in education.

Kirtland Republican state Sen. Jerry Cirino cosponsored Senate Bill 361, which allows for a vet to bypass any teaching requirements by just completing four years of service, having been honorably discharged and having a reference letter from a former commanding officer that says the veteran is qualified to teach.

Marine Corps veteran Sam Livingston is skeptical.

"Just because someone served doesn't mean that they necessarily have the skills to go out and teach," he said.

He understands that there is a teacher shortage and this could open up the door for qualified vets to get better jobs, he said.

"[It] provides teaching opportunities under certain circumstances to qualified vets to be able to assist them with their workforce challenges right now," Cirino said. "And it's great for our vets because it uses their great experience in training and it will bring great benefit to the students of Ohio."

Livingston isn't completely sold yet.

"I think there's a great tradeoff there," the veteran added. "The problem is, how do you vet that?"

How do you vet the vet?

Along with the 48 months of active duty military service, and an honorable discharge or medical separation from the armed forces, the vets have four different ways to provide their eligibility:

  • has a letter from a former commanding officer that states that the individual is qualified to teach
  • earned a master training specialist certification from the United States navy
  • served as a training officer or a lead instructor while in the armed forces
  • served as a noncommissioned officer, a warrant officer or a senior enlisted person

When asked by News 5 how would a commanding officer in the military know if a veteran is qualified to teach, Cirino said there are other options.

"Well, I think...of that more as a reference," the lawmaker said. "I don't think it's necessarily asking a commanding officer to evaluate whether that person would be an excellent teacher or not."

It is unclear what that letter would do if it doesn't provide the purpose it was specified in the law to do.

And to be clear, this law is permissive, meaning school districts get a choice whether to put this into place or not.

"You can take exception to Revised Code if you see fit to do it, if it meets the needs that you have in your school system," Cirino said. "And it's not government telling anybody what to do. It's telling them that they can't do it under these conditions as outlined in the bill if they wish to."

The bill requires at least 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA or higher from an "accredited" school.

Coast Guard veteran Bob Shields, who actually has a teaching license, said that isn't enough.

"If I have 16 credits in biology, I might still qualify to teach social studies," Shields said. "And that doesn't make sense."

Shields, who annotated everything he had questions on in the bill, explains the major issues he has with it.

From a military perspective

Along with not understanding how a commanding officer would be able to qualify a veteran to be a good teacher, Shields also brought up a problem with a specific provision.

In the legislation, it is stated that the veteran must demonstrate "mastery of the subject area to be taught, as determined by the school governing authority." Shields and Livingston agree that is too arbitrary and doesn't work.

Both veterans argue that going through a military training process to become an instructor is nothing like becoming a teacher.

"Training at the unit level does not require formal military-type training," Shields added. "But if you get my point is that they don't have to be formally qualified within the military as trainers. So there is a lot of unit training that goes on and maybe somebody is good at that. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they can translate that well into the classroom."

Many of the skills that Livingston learned while deployed wouldn't work well in a school, he laughed.

"We're seeing how many veterans are affected adversely from their deployments — so what kind of a school environment are they going to be in?" Livingston asked. "I will also say a lot of my military training was absolutely inappropriate for a high school or middle school or elementary school student. And, of course, veterans, most of us, are professional enough to understand the difference."

Another concern is the fact that only those who earned a master training specialist certification from the United States Navy can use that as a qualifier. If they move forward with this bill, it should also specify the other services and what is relatively equivalent, Shields said.

But it wasn't surprising that the bill, primarily sponsored by state Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction), was written the way it was, he said. The legislator is a retired Navy SEAL.

Hoagland is known for centering things he knows specifically about in his legislation. A News 5 investigation revealed he recently drafted the training curriculum that schools would have to follow to allow teachers in Ohio to carry guns — and he owns a gun training business that seemingly fits all the required steps in the bill.

RELATED: Ohio lawmaker who wrote bill requiring gun training for teachers owns gun training business

Shields also took issue with the fact that there is essentially no difference between a noncommissioned officer and a senior enlisted person.

"What I would recommend is that they be at least a pay grade E-6 or higher," he said. "Now earning E-6 in four years, it's almost impossible."

The bill just doesn't seem thought out, the veterans said. It is also implied by the two that the bill doesn't seem to understand all aspects of different military branches.

Shields said the accreditation system is also vague and could lead to problems.

"There are a lot of accrediting bodies out there," he said, referencing how there should be guidelines on what kind of programs the 60 credits come from. "Somebody waves them on and that's it."

Livingston is much more receptive to the idea as a whole, citing that there are probably many vets who would "really fulfill those roles and love the opportunity to do so."

Making sure that kids, educators and the vets themselves are set up for success is the main focus for each vet.

"It's a one-size-fits-all until it's not," Livingston said. "I'm sure the teacher's union is going to have a lot of questions about that," he said.

Teachers union reactions

As one can expect, educators are not happy about this.

"Obviously, we have a great deal of respect for our veterans and the work that they've done for our country and their level of expertise," Ohio Federation of Teachers' Melissa Cropper said. "But that level of expertise doesn't necessarily transfer over into a classroom."

Her concern and confusion over the bill doesn't have to do with the veterans, but rather why the lawmakers are reducing requirements to become a teacher.

"OFT is highly concerned about the Legislature continuing to lessen the requirements for what it takes to be a teacher, instead of looking at how they address the problems that teachers have identified for why they're leaving the classroom and why more people aren't coming in," she said.

Educators have told Cropper they have been burnt out due to feeling a lack of autonomy in the classroom, going through the pandemic and teacher shortages and because they don't get fair wages, she said. Lessening the requirements to teach may not do anything but put people in classrooms without enough training.

The Ohio Education Association pointed out that Ohio already has a Troops to Teachers program, providing "opportunities for military personnel to begin careers in K-12 schools by facilitating the process for them to get licensed," their spokesperson added.

Cropper brings up what she said is a trend that shouldn't be continuing.

Florida's impact

This bill is another piece of current legislation being proposed by Ohio's General Assembly that has been modeled after bills in the Sunshine State.

Ohio introduced its own version of Florida's law that would prohibit or greatly limit discussions of sexuality and gender in schools, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The state has also been allowing some teachers to carry guns in schools, similar to a law signed in Ohio this summer.

RELATED: Lawmakers hear Ohio’s version of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

"We've been doing this for over a decade and none of these bills ever work," Cropper said. "So it's time for us to stop imitating Florida and look for Ohio's solutions for how we attract and retain teachers in Ohio."

RELATED: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signs bill allowing teachers, staff to carry guns in schools

Cirino said there is nothing wrong with Florida bills, especially since he and many of his fellow Republicans are fans of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"It's just that Florida has been particularly aggressive in a number of areas, if we can learn from some things, our structure in another state that just makes it a little bit easier and faster for us to enact good legislation," he said.

Ohio has also followed Florida on the A-F report cards for schools and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, both of which educators say hurt children, specifically ones in marginalized communities, Cropper said.

Final thoughts from Cirino

Relying on the laws of the past can't sustain Ohio's recovery from the pandemic, Cirino said.

"This is great news for our veterans, it's great news for our school systems that are working hard to try to find teachers. And we got all this pent-up experience in training out there in our vets. Let's tap into what and that's what this bill will allow school systems to do," he said.

In June, the Legislature passed House Bill 583, a bill that would allow local school boards to hire substitutes who don’t have college degrees. This, as long as they meet the school’s educational requirements, pass a criminal background check, and are of “good moral character.”

RELATED: Ohio may cut college degree requirement for K-12 substitute teachers

Although this bill may be expedited because of the teacher shortage, it is unclear if these rules would stay once schools are better staffed.

"It's actually urgent because the shortages are not going to get better on their own," the lawmaker said. "And the sooner we can get this stuff rolling, the better."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.