April 13, 2022

‘All hands on deck’ as Indiana ends emergency permits for special education teachers

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner talks during the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis. - (Indiana Department of Education/YouTube)

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner talks during the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis.

(Indiana Department of Education/YouTube)

The Indiana State Board of Education voted Wednesday to end the use of emergency permits for special education teachers next school year. The decision was a final step in the state’s plan to comply with federal special education law that it has violated for years by allowing under-qualified educators to teach students with disabilities. 

The board approved a new temporary, special education teaching license designed to help fill the gap. To qualify for the new credential, educators must hold a bachelor’s degree and enroll in an approved alternative training program. It will last for a maximum of three years. 

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said a shortage of special education teachers is impacting school districts across the state, and she encouraged universities to help train educators. 

“I'm sure that all of us would love for any university to lean in and be a part of the solution,” Jenner said. “We need all hands on deck on this.”

Indiana schools often struggle to hire enough fully licensed special education teachers because it’s a difficult job that requires specialized training and typically offers similar pay to other teaching positions. A WFYI investigation last fall found that schools have increasingly relied on emergency permits to staff special education classrooms. Indiana issued 43 percent more special education emergency teaching permits in 2019-20 than it did four years before — rising to more than 1,200 from about 850 in 2016-17. 

Without emergency permits, some administrators worry that the shortage of special education teachers could get even worse. If schools are not able to hire enough special educators, they caution, it could decrease the number of teachers in classrooms and increase case loads for qualified special educators. 

The Indiana Department of Education hopes to mitigate that problem by increasing the number of educators pursuing special education licensure. It has partnered with the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis to launch a program to help special education teachers get licensed or enter a program that qualifies them for a temporary permit under new state requirements. 

The program is paid for with federal special education funding and pandemic relief aid, said State Director of Special Education Nancy Holsapple. It is expected to continue until 2024.

Almost 400 people are participating in the new program, known as Indiana Special Education Assisted Licensure, according to the deparment of education.

Licensed teachers who wish to add a special education license to their credentials can get free training at participating universities, and scholarships are available for people with bachelor's degrees who wish to become educators through transition to teach programs as well as current students in special education teacher preparation programs.

State board member Erika Dilosa, who serves as the director of special education for multiple charter schools in Gary, described the program and tuition assistance as “so needed.”

The board approved two new transition to teaching programs to prepare special educators. There are now 12 programs offering that training. Information about the Indiana Special Education Assisted Licensure program is available here.

Contact WFYI education reporter Dylan Peers McCoy at dmccoy@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @dylanpmccoy.

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