Some NC teachers have had to wait 6 months to get hired. That’s too long, audit says.

Some NC teachers have had to wait 6 months to get hired. That’s too long, audit says.

RALEIGH, N.C. (T. Keung Hui | News and Observer) - State delays in processing North Carolina teacher licenses are keeping some teachers from being hired and preventing others from getting their full pay and benefits.

State education officials said Tuesday they're working to improve the licensure process to end the days when some teachers waited six months or more to get their licenses. The goal is six to eight weeks, although a recent internal audit found multiple issues that are impeding the ability to process applications quickly.

"We know based on our audit that customer service and processing times have to be at the forefront of our improvements moving forward," Deputy State Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin told the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee on Tuesday.

Delays in processing applications impact the ability of principals to hire teachers, which is especially crucial before the start of the new school year. Some teachers may also lose out financially since their districts may pay them less as substitutes until their paperwork is processed.

Mark Johnson had cited the licensure backlog as one of his campaign issues in his successful 2016 campaign to unseat longtime State Superintendent June Atkinson. Pitre-Martin credited Johnson with helping lead the review of the licensure process.

The process should have been improved long before now, according to Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and co-chairman of the oversight committee.

"The (audit) findings clearly show people don't know what to do," Horn said in an interview after the meeting. "The applicants are having great frustration in dealing with the online application process.

"Why is it here we are in 2018 and we haven't solved that problem? That should have been done years ago."

Educators need a license to teach in the state's traditional public schools (only 50 percent of teachers at charter schools are required to be licensed) so new applications are submitted annually by beginning teachers and teachers moving into the state. Pitre-Martin said a staff of 16 in the state Department of Public Instruction's licensure section process 5,000 to 8,000 applications each year.

DPI staff go through resumes of the applicants line by line, according to Steven LaFemina, a partner at The New Teacher Project, the nonprofit group that did the audit.

LaFemina told lawmakers that the state should strive for faster than an eight-week processing timeline. He said some smaller states examined as part of the audit processed teacher licenses closer to four weeks.

"An aspiration for something faster than eight weeks would benefit educators," LaFemina said.

But LaFemina said the audit found that the licensure process was complicated by issues such as unclear state Board of Education policies. He said contradictory information may be passed to school districts when licensure questions came up.

The audit recommended a number of changes, including:

  • Make sure the expected processing time of six to eight weeks is communicated;
  • At a minimum, aim for processing times of six weeks during the busy months and consider four weeks during the fall and winter;
  • Finalize a plan to more effectively manage call volumes during the busy summer months;

But Sen. Ronald Rabin, a Harnett County Republican, cautioned against pushing too hard to speed up the process.

"I would suggest let's not worry about doing it quick," he said. "Let's worry about doing it best and keep the parts in that make sure what we're getting are quality people teaching our children."