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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes legislation to help paraprofessionals become certified teachers

June 8, 2023

DOVER – The Delaware Senate passed legislation Thursday to help ease the path for experienced paraprofessionals to become full-time, certified teachers.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Senate Bill 156 will both assist Delaware schools resolve ongoing teacher shortages and encourage a more diverse teacher workforce.

“Rising student enrollment combined with high turnover has left many of our schools with teaching vacancies, which – if left unaddressed – can result in larger class sizes and worse outcomes for students,” said Sen. Lockman, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“While we have paraprofessionals who would like to fill those vacancies, our current teacher salary scale fails to account for the classroom experience they’ve gained in their current roles, which means that transition would likely result in a pay cut for our most experienced paras,” she said. “I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for voting today to remove that hurdle and allow Delaware schools to draw from a more diverse pool of teaching candidates.”

Under Senate Bill 156, teachers who were previously employed as a Title 1 or instructional paraprofessional for at least four years would be able to count half of their prior experience toward the salary scale for teachers.

“Paraprofessionals make great teachers.  The experience they gain working with our students – often one-on-one or in small groups – helps them immensely if they choose to pursue a teaching career,” Secretary of Education Mark Holodick said. “This bill provides well deserved recognition for that work, and I hope such a change will encourage more paraprofessionals to consider teaching.”

“Our teacher shortage has shown us that teacher recruitment and retention needs to become a top priority for Delaware. What SB 156 does, by ensuring that we professionally compensate paraeducators who put the work in to becoming teachers, is an integral part of resolving this issue” DSEA President Stephanie Ingram said. “Our paras are in the trenches, covering empty classrooms and giving students the one-on-one care that they need, and the experience they bring with them needs to be recognized when placing them on a salary scale. We are thankful that Sen. Lockman has put the work in and taken a step forward in Delaware education compensation with this legislation.”

Helping paraprofessionals become full-time certified teachers also may help Delaware schools improve the racial diversity of the state’s teacher workforce – a key recommendation of the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity co-chaired by Sen. Lockman.

While 58% of Delaware public school students were people of color or multiracial as of the 2020-21 school year and 51% male, the state’s teacher workforce was 82% white. By comparison, people of color make up more than 40% of the state’s paraprofessional workforce.

“Diversifying Delaware’s teacher workforce is a critical component of boosting student achievement,” Lockman said. “Studies have shown that all students – but especially students of color – have better academic performance and improved graduation rates when taught by teachers of color.”

Opening the path for roughly 3,200 paraprofessionals in Delaware to become full-time certified teachers is only the latest bill to address the ongoing teacher shortage that saw Delaware open the 2022-23 school year with about 300 teacher vacancies.

In 2022, the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation to create permanent, full-time substitute teacher positions and pathways for those employees to transition to certified teaching roles. The Legislature also set aside $4 million to help public schools institute Grow Your Own Educator programs to provide tuition support and other financial assistance to college students who commit to teach at a given school for at least three years.

Last month, the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee also voted to fund a 9-percent pay raise for all district teachers first proposed by Governor John Carney in January, while House Education Committee Chair Kim Williams sponsored legislation to establish a Delaware Educator Apprenticeship Program that places aspiring teachers in paid positions while they complete their education and training.

“One of my top legislative priorities has been to support educators and grow our educator pipeline, particularly in light of the teacher shortage we are facing,” said Rep. Kim Williams, the House prime sponsor of SB 156. “Paraprofessionals already have valuable hands-on experience in the classroom, so it’s only fair that we streamline the process for them to become certified and licensed teachers, with salaries that reflect their years of experience. This will allow us to retain these highly qualified individuals throughout our state. I want to thank Senator Lockman for her efforts in championing this crucial measure, which will open up new avenues for professional growth and equitable compensation.”

SB 156 now heads to the House for final consideration.