Only eight employees in the Louisiana Department of Education will process some 36,000 applications for teacher certification this school year, Superintendent Cade Brumley told the Senate Education Committee. (Canva image)
The Louisiana Department of Education will receive some 36,000 applications for teacher certifications this year, ranging from first-time educators to those who want to become principals or specialize in certain fields. But with only a few full-time employees handling those requests, the state’s top public education official said reducing a backlog will remain a challenge.
Superintendent Cade Brumley appeared Monday before the state Senate Education Committee to share details on why certifications take up to two months to approve. He told lawmakers the department’s certification staff has been reduced from 16 employees in 2011 to just eight currently.
“We’re moving pieces on the chess board all the time to accommodate, but there are only so many people to do the work,” Brumley said.
The limited manpower means each certification specialist has to review an average of 300 applications a week to keep pace with the number coming in, Deputy Superintendent Jenna Chaisson said.
Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, who chairs the committee, asked Brumley why the education department didn’t budget for additional personnel in the certification program. The superintendent said cuts to administration didn’t allow for new hires, although he added the department is in the process of onboarding four part-time workers for certification.
Chaisson attributed the glut of applications to a combination of factors. They include the lapse of certification renewal extensions given because of COVID-19 and new certifications in areas such as algebra, geometry, dyslexia and sign language.
The backlog has stretched the certification approval process to about 65 days for some applications, according to Chaisson. Before the pandemic, they could be processed within 10 to 15 days.
Brumley said there are more than 7,000 certifications awaiting approval, but Chaisson said school systems are able to request priority status if they have a teacher candidate they are ready to hire.
Another delaying factor lawmakers explored was the need for two criminal background checks for prospective teachers and certificate applicants. Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, said the legislature might want to consider changing state law to require just one.
Despite the difficulties, Brumley reported to the committee that the number of teaching vacancies at Louisiana public schools has been cut in half over the past year – from 2,520 in 2021 to 1,203 this year. He credited the reduction to local school systems tapping into federal incentives for new hires, a pay raise the governor and legislature supported, and teachers who left classrooms during the pandemic returning to work.
The superintendent said his department intends to hire a consultant to look at how its certification program could be run more efficiently. He expects technology upgrades to be among the recommendations along with adding more personnel – the same suggestion made when a consultant conducted a similar review in 2020.
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