You Want to Teach? Wait in Line.

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Last September, Governor Youngkin issued an executive directive addressing teacher shortages in Virginia. That directive laid out numerous actions to be taken by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and other  agency heads with regard to reducing the teacher shortage. In his remarks upon releasing the directive, he called the actions “transformational.”

It turns out there was a basic action that the Governor forgot about: processing licensure applications from would-be teachers in a timely manner. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that it is taking at least six months for the Department of Education to process licensure applications. In some cases, it takes much longer. The article tells of an applicant with seven years of service in the Army, a master’s degree, and three years’ teaching experience still waiting after a year for his application for a provisional license to be processed. (He teaches at Benedictine Prep School in Goochland County, and the school does not require its teachers to have Virginia teaching certificates.)

According to a Department of Education spokesman, it “normally” takes 10-12 weeks to process an application. However, the agency’s licensure specialists are still working on applications received last October. The department cites several reasons for the backlog. The primary reason is personnel turnover and vacancies caused by that turnover. Other reasons cited were disruptions in the workflow due to COVID and additional workload created by legislation granting license extensions.

Whatever the reasons for it, that backlog has been a major contributing factor to the difficulties schools have had in filling teacher vacancies this year. Furthermore, it is likely that many of those applicants have become discouraged and found jobs elsewhere, either in private schools or outside the teaching profession altogether. Even after their applications are finally processed, they probably have been lost to the Virginia public school system.

My Soapbox

There comes a time when a governor has to stop campaigning and start governing. Governor Youngkin does not seem to have realized this. After he issued that directive on teacher shortages, the governor spent the fall traveling around the country campaigning for fellow Republicans (most of whom lost). The Superintendent of Public Instruction spent her time working a rewrite of the draft Standard of Learning Standard for History and Social Studies. The product was so flawed that even the governor expressed public disappointment and sent the Superintendent back to the drawing board.

I realize that it is not reasonable to expect a governor to keep direct tabs on everything that is going on in state government. But education is one of this administration’s top priorities! They spent the spring and summer pointing out how much Virginia students had fallen behind as a result of the previous administration’s policies and how Virginia had slipped in comparison to other states in student standardized test scores. The shortage of teachers needed to overcome these problems is well known.

Now we learn that people who desire a teaching job in Virginia public schools have to wait more than six months to have their licensure applications processed. Where were the people who are supposed to follow up on the administration’s priorities and initiatives and ensure that agencies are implementing the governor’s directives? People like the Secretary of Education, the chief of staff, and the Chief Transformation Officer. (See Jeff Shapiro’s profile of ex-chief of staff, Bill Leighty.) These are the people who are supposed to protect the governor from the embarrassment of an ex-serviceman with a master’s degree and teaching experience having to wait more than a year for his application for a teacher’s license to be processed.