A new law recently enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy allows New Jersey school districts to apply with the state Department of Education for an allowance of hiring up to 10% of staff that may not meet the traditional standard in one of three areas of certification.

The immediate goal of establishing this "flexibility" in grade-point average, Praxis test results, or subject matter credit requirements is to get more educators into Jersey classrooms, with districts continuing to report teacher shortages while trying to make up for COVID-19 learning loss.

JerseyCAN, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as advocating for "high-quality educational opportunities for all New Jersey students," supported the measure during the legislative process, and executive director Patricia Morgan is now applauding Murphy's signage of the five-year pilot program.

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"Principals who have found a teacher that they think can be successful in the classroom can have a little flexibility, (the teacher can) get some additional mentoring, and be in a classroom full of students," Morgan said.

Not only might this pilot program make the Garden State's teacher pool more youthful — JerseyCAN said 20,000 teachers, or 20% of the profession in the state, were over age 55 in 2020 — but it could also eventually serve to make faculties better reflect the children they educate.

Morgan said that would be a net plus for students.

"Studies have shown that all students who have access to diverse teachers, and teachers who look like them, actually have increased academic outcomes," she said.

Beyond the allotted five-year period, Morgan hopes this new law will help build and grow a stable of able, enthusiastic teachers.

"In one of our studies, we found a 25% decrease in the educator pipeline over four years," she said. "We need to look to the longer term, and build an intentional pipeline of teachers to fill high-demand teaching positions."

Reports on how the program is going will be sent back to the Department of Education for analysis, and district data on what types of teachers are needed will be collected annually, to inform institutions of higher education who and what is in demand.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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