October 18, 2019

Court rejects fake certification scheme for charter school teachers

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: FILE PHOTO: Our activists and our lawyers have been on the front lines fighting the fake "certification" regulations for charter schools since day one - as in this photo from September 2017 featuring NYSUT President Andy Pallotta firing up a crowd gathered in Saratoga Springs to protest a meeting of the SUNY Charter School Committee. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

After the union fought back against “fake” certification for some charter school teachers, a midlevel appeals court this week ruled the SUNY Charter Schools Committee does not have the authority to set its own standards for certifying teachers.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said the court ruling is a big win for the union and the profession. “This is about preserving what it means to be a teacher in New York State,” Pallotta said. “This would have created a two-tiered certification system and allowed unqualified educators to practice in some charter schools.”

The state Appellate Division, Third Department, unanimously ruled that SUNY exceeded its authority in October 2017 when it approved regulations establishing an independent licensure process for teachers in certain charter schools. The committee claimed the back-door licensing process was necessary due to a teacher shortage. SUNY lawyers argued the Charter Schools Law gave SUNY officials additional power to “promulgate regulations with respect to governance, structure and operation of charter schools” they oversee.

But the court panel, noting the Merriam-Webster definition of the word “operation,” found setting certification standards was beyond the scope of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee. The court made it clear that it’s up to the State Education Commissioner and Board of Regents to set regulations governing the certification of all public school teachers. The court also ruled that even if the regulations were allowed, SUNY did not follow the proper procedures under the State Administrative Procedure Act regarding public comment.

The court action stems from a number of separate legal challenges filed by NYSUT, the United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, the State Education Department, the Board of Regents, a parent and two charter school teachers who are union members.

The union’s lawsuit contended the new rules would “significantly undercut the quality of teaching in SUNY-approved charter schools,” and would create “an essentially fake certification process, one not valid for employment in New York’s public school districts, other charter schools or the public schools of other states.”

The SUNY Committee regulations would have allowed charter schools to self-certify their teachers with only 160 hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching. The regulations suggest but do not mandate that charter teachers complete a certification exam and have a bachelor’s degree.

Initially the SUNY committee proposed as little as 30 hours of required training, but raised the minimum standards after union members protested outside the SUNY meeting. Activists carried signs saying “Real teachers for ALL,” “No EZ-Teach!” and “All students deserve qualified teachers!”

The State Education Department also applauded the court action: “We commend the Court’s decision, which preserves the Board of Regents and Commissioner’s authority to ensure that there are rigorous teacher preparation programs and ensures that all students of every color and economic status have access to high quality certified teachers, which is paramount to a student’s success.”

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