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Bill looks to military veterans to ease Nebraska's teacher shortage

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2023 Nebraska legislative session preview

LINCOLN — Military veterans could more easily take on a new mission under a proposal heard by the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee on Monday.

Legislative Bill 188 would allow veterans to become K-12 teachers without having to get teacher education. Instead, they could get five-year teaching certificates and learn on the job from experienced teachers.

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, who introduced the measure, said it would accomplish two goals. It would provide a career option for veterans, while helping ease the growing shortage of teachers across Nebraska.

Under the bill, veterans would have to meet certain conditions to get the temporary teaching certificates. Those include serving at least four years in the military and not being dishonorably discharged, having at least 60 college credits with a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher and passing a test in the subject area they would be teaching.

The bill also would require that mentor teachers, with at least three years of experience, be assigned to the veterans-turned-teachers for their first two years in the classroom.

Elizabeth Davids welcomed the idea. She said she has heard from numerous parents and teachers who are “at the end of their rope” trying to cope with vacant teacher positions and a lack of substitute teachers.

“I can’t think of anyone else I would trust more than veterans who have served this country,” she said.

So did Kevin Naumann, a Catholic school administrator who retired from the Air National Guard. He said veterans have the discipline, patriotism and work ethic needed in the classroom, along with valuable skills and experience. He also said any initiative that would increase the number of teacher candidates would be useful.

Others argued that the bill would lower teaching standards for one group of people and said that serving in the military and completing two years worth of college courses does not necessarily prepare someone to handle a classroom full of children.

Isau Metes, a U.S. Army veteran and English teacher, testified for the Nebraska State Education Association. She raised concerns that the bill does not specify what subjects the person took in college nor does it set a high enough standard for the person’s discharge. She said veterans can have discharges under conditions that would be troubling, even if the level is above a dishonorable discharge.

Nicole Hochstein, a teacher married to a military veteran, said mentoring veterans-turned-teachers would add to the workload of existing teachers. She also questioned whether the qualifications set in the bill would be sufficient.

“Having the title of veteran doesn’t mean you are upstanding and trustworthy,” she said. “We are essentially saying that anyone off the street can teach.”

Ryan McIntosh, speaking for the National Guard Association of Nebraska, praised the bill’s “out-of-the-box” approach, although he suggested limiting the temporary certificates to veterans who have an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. He testified as neutral on the bill because the association has not yet taken a position on it.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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