The Montana Board of Public Education approved new rules to teaching licensing regulations at a meeting on Thursday in hopes of alleviating ongoing teacher shortages across the state.

For the last 18 months, leaders in education wrestled with ways to expand pathways to a teaching license in Montana. The board collected nearly four months of public comment ahead of its decision.

“Now we are at the point of having drafted responses for those comments and we're at the point where we can take action to move forward with the final steps of the rulemaking process,” said Madalyn Quinlan, a board member and chair of the licensing committee.

After making modifications to revisions proposed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, the board unanimously approved the new rules. The board agreed with some of the recommendations, including creating new ways for current licensed educators to add endorsements as well as returning unusual cases with licensing to the state superintendent.

Some of OPI’s other recommendations, such as creating a rule that would make it easier for military spouses and dependents with licenses in other states to teach in Montana, underwent slight modifications to clarify definitions.

“These innovative rules will maintain teacher quality while opening the door for the wider recruitment of educators in Montana and across the United States,” Arntzen said on Thursday. “Montana students’ futures are brighter because of the unanimous decision today.”

Though the board worked to find a balance between eliminating barriers to various educator’s licenses without sacrificing quality of instruction, not all in the education community are convinced.

Montana Federation of Public Employees President Amanda Curtis was the lone commenter at Thursday’s meeting. She shared her concerns on behalf of the state’s largest union at 6,500 members, which includes teachers at all levels of education.

Curtis focused on a new rule that would allow a teacher with a standard unrestricted, out-of-state educator license and at least two years of successful teaching experience to teach in Montana without providing their Praxis exam score, college grade-point-average, or student-teaching portfolio. Under the previous Montana rule, teachers had to provide all three of those qualifications.

The same rule would allow an out-of-state license applicant to gain a Montana license with no teaching experience, if they have at least a 3.5 GPA, or a passing Praxis score or a passing grade on a portfolio.

Curtis called that a "degradation of the professional standards for teaching and for licensing teachers."

Quinlan confirmed that Curtis’ interpretation of the new rule was accurate and noted that the new rule creates different paths to licensure and that process still requires a bachelor’s degree and student-teaching experience.

“There is a definition of student-teaching portfolio that was included and we tweaked that,” board chair Tammy Lacey said. "It’s a type of performance assessment that asks candidates to demonstrate what they have learned, how they engage in the learning process and how they apply their knowledge demonstrating their preparedness for the teaching profession."

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