TRENTON — Faced with a teacher shortage that persisted for years in some areas and is growing during the pandemic, lawmakers are considering having the state recognize out-of-state teaching certificates to make recruiting easier for school districts.

A bill has been advanced by both the Senate and Assembly education committees that would grant reciprocity for out-of-state licenses. It awaits votes by the full Legislature, which could conceivably come in January but won’t necessarily be scheduled.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, said New Jersey faced shortages of teachers in some disciplines even before the pandemic.

“This is a pipeline to ensure that whatever shortages we have, that we will continue to have that high-quality of teacher experience for our students in New Jersey,” Quijano said.

Scott Oswald, the superintendent of schools in Collingswood and Oaklyn, said he’s never seen a teacher shortage like the one that’s happening now.

“A staggering reduction in the number of applicants we are seeing for teacher vacancies, a widespread crisis that is only getting worse,” Oswald said.

A pair of elementary school openings in Collingswood drew 1,272 applications in 2015, but the district got 301 for another two openings three years later. A long-term substitute position to cover a middle-school language arts maternity-leave vacancy got 86 applicants in 2016 and six in 2018.

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It’s been even tougher mid-pandemic, Oswald said. A permanent position as an elementary school writing support teacher that got 146 applicants in 2012 saw four this year. Three openings for long-term interim teachers drew a total of 10 applicants, four of whom lacked the needed certifications.

“We need a deep bench of professionals, and right now we can barely field a starting lineup,” he said.

Charity Comella, director of human resources for the West Windsor-Plainsboro schools, said districts that used to see many applicants for job openings are seeing far fewer. Teachers already certified in other states must recertify here – a costly, cumbersome process she said can be maddening.

“Often time we get candidates that will either back out of the process or tell us that they’re not interested in applying to our school district – or our state.”

Comella, a member of the Central Jersey Program for the Recruitment of Diverse Educators, or CJPRIDE, said the change could also help districts recruit more diverse candidates. Currently 84% of teachers in the state are white, compared to 43% of students.

“Our students deserve to have teachers and staff members that reflect themselves,” Comella said.

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Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, short for the New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now, said such a change would be similar to what New Jersey has done for other professions during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen emergency approvals for licenses like doctors and nurses, and we really believe that teachers are absolutely a priority for our students and families right now,” she said.

Morgan said there has been a 24% decline in four years in the number of new teachers entering the workforce in New Jersey. She suggested the state should also drop its residency requirement or give an emergency waiver to hire teachers who live out of state, particularly during remote learning.

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