COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Former servicemembers could become school teachers without a license if one Republican lawmaker gets his way.

State Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) introduced Senate Bill 361 last Monday which would allow Ohio school districts to hire unlicensed veterans who were honorably discharged or medically separated from the force as school teachers, ostensibly to combat the shortage of educators across the state, the lawmaker said in an email.

“Bringing in qualified veterans who want to teach K-12 would help reduce our teacher shortage and lower the barrier to entry for veterans who already have relevant instruction experience,” Hoagland said.

Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper, however, said SB 361 falls woefully short in addressing the root issues driving teachers out of the classroom.

“It shows a true lack of respect for the profession and indicates that in order to solve this crisis, we just need to allow other people to come in and do the work who haven’t gone through that training,” Cropper said.

What do veterans need to qualify for a teaching job?

Under SB 361, requirements to become a teacher are significantly reduced for Ohio veterans, as a bachelor’s degree or teaching license aren’t mandated. To qualify, veterans must meet the following criteria:

  • At least 48 months of active duty military service
  • At least 60 college credits with at least a 2.5 GPA
  • Mastery of the subject area they’re assigned to teach, as decided by the school

Veterans aspiring to be teachers must also display one of the following: a letter from a commanding officer stating their qualification to teach; a master training specialist certification from the U.S. Navy; experience as a training officer or lead instructor in the armed forces; or experience as a noncommissioned officer, a warrant officer, or a senior enlisted person, according to the bill’s text.

Most importantly, veterans must want to teach, Hoagland said. Nothing in the bill bars veterans-turned-teachers from earning a teaching license of their own volition.

“Their heart has to align with that profession from the get-go,” Hoagland said. “Anyone who wants to teach will take the time and put forth the effort to be an effective teacher.”

Could veterans solve the teacher shortage in Ohio?

With burnout reported as the top issue facing teachers, 55% of educators nationwide are planning to leave the profession earlier than planned, a January report from the National Education Association found.

Cropper said there are a number of factors pushing teachers out: overcrowded classrooms, a lack of resources, low wages, and most importantly, “a lack of respect for the teaching profession.”

“With the atmosphere the way it is now, we’re seeing more and more people deciding it’s not worth it to be in the teaching profession,” she said.

That’s why Hoagland’s introduction of SB 361 is so timely, he said. It opens a door for school districts struggling to attract teachers, giving them another tool to bulk up their workforces.

“For example, if a certified military aircraft mechanic offers to teach a shop class, that veteran is already clearly qualified to teach engine repair,” Hoagland said.

Cropper said while she has the utmost respect for the sacrifices servicemembers have made for the U.S., replacing empty classrooms with unlicensed veterans will not eliminate the slew of other problems hindering educators.

The bill is a slap in the face to educators, she said, because it essentially deems unnecessary the time and effort they dedicated to meeting the qualifications needed to lead a classroom full of students. An existing statewide program, Troops to Teachers, already serves the needs of veterans aspiring to become educators, she said.

“First, we’re going to say, ‘OK, we’ll open up the veterans,’” Cropper said. “Who are they going to open up to next and at what point in time? Or is the legislature just going to say, ‘You don’t need any kind of credentials to be a teacher; anybody can do it.’ And that’s harmful to everybody.”

What’s the student impact of unlicensed veterans-turned-teachers?

Ohio saw a 45% jump in chronic absenteeism among school students between 2019 and 2021, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book. In Columbus City Schools alone, about 65% of students were deemed chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year, the Ohio Department of Education found.

Funneling veterans into school buildings could stem that tide, Hoagland said.

“Every effort needs to be made to focus on educating students and keeping them engaged,” he said. “This program would help put qualified instructors in the classroom.”

Cropper disagreed. SB 361, she said, could ultimately worsen rates of chronic absenteeism in Ohio by discouraging the value of education among students.

“When qualified people aren’t in the classroom, it leads students to believe that first of all, there’s not a high value placed on their education if we’re saying that you don’t need to be qualified to teach a classroom, that anyone can do it,” she said. “And we’re opening the door for students to decide that ‘It’s not worth my time to be here; I don’t need to pay full attention.’”

The legislature will determine whether to consider the bill, co-sponsored by four Republican lawmakers, when it returns to session one week after the Nov. 8 election.