This article appeared in the Winter 2018-19 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

Have your administrators told all English teachers that they must secure an English as a Second Language credential before the end of this year? Have they said that this requirement comes from the Texas Education Agency? Has the district said that the district cannot pay for certification training or testing? Recent changes in administrative rules have led to confusion and misinterpretations about what is actually required.

In July, the commissioner of education amended 19 Texas Administrative Code § 89.1210 to bring the rule into compliance with Texas Education Code § 29.061(c), which states that a teacher assigned to an ESL program must hold an ESL certificate issued by the State Board for Educator Certification. The law applies only to teachers in an ESL program.

Which teachers are covered?

The law applies to school districts. It also applies to districts of innovation and open-enrollment charter schools. Some districts claim the right to hire uncertified bilingual and ESL teachers by exempting themselves from Texas Education Code § 21.003, the law that requires districts to hire SBEC certified teachers. An exemption from this law does not allow a DOI to hire uncertified bilingual and ESL teachers. Texas Education Code § 12A.004(1) prohibits a district from exempting itself from “a state or federal requirement applicable to an open-enrollment charter school.” Texas Education Code § 12.104(b)(2)(G) requires open-enrollment charters to comply with bilingual education laws set out in the education code.

District options

Districts have two ESL program options. According to 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 89.1210(d), districts can use an ESL/content-based program model or an ESL/pull-out program model. Districts that choose to use a content-based program model would have to assign students to a classroom taught by an ESL endorsed teacher. Those districts assume the responsibility of hiring a sufficient number of ESL certified teachers to cover the classrooms. In a pull-out program, ESL students leave the classroom for lessons with a specialist.

Stipends for ESL teachers

In past years, many districts phased out (or substantially reduced) stipends for ESL teachers. Nothing in the law requires districts to pay ESL stipends. The commissioner’s rule revision and the difficulty some districts may have finding appropriately certified teachers may lead to increased stipends in some districts.

Waivers

School districts, districts of innovation and open-enrollment charter schools, are required to apply for a bilingual education exception and/or an ESL waiver in cases where they have an insufficient number of appropriately certified staff to serve English learners in accordance with the law. The deadline for the 2018-19 waiver application was Nov. 1. The law does not prohibit a district from seeking a waiver in 2019-20 if the district made a good faith effort to hire enough appropriately certified teachers.

Financial support for teacher training and testing

Districts that applied for and received bilingual or ESL waivers this year had to develop a “comprehensive professional development…plan targeting the competencies needed to serve…English learners.” As a component of its plan, a district had to commit to use, for professional development, a minimum of 10 percent of its allotted funds for bilingual education and/or 10 percent of its allotted funds for ESL education.

Districts can use the professional development funds for extra duty pay for staff participating in targeted professional development outside of regular school hours, substitute pay for teachers attending in-service during school hours, and mileage reimbursement for travel to an ESC or other off-site training location.

The funds for testing, following professional development, can be used for reimbursement of a testing fee, limited only by the allowable limit on test attempts (currently five); mileage reimbursement for staff travel to and from a testing center if the district does not already pay mileage; and substitute pay to cover teaching staff absent from school to take a test paid for through funds. A district can reimburse teachers for the testing fee, and not just if the teacher passes the test, but according to TEA, districts cannot use the state-allotted funds to reimburse teachers for the cost of posting to the staff member’s certificate.

How a district uses its funds to promote staff development and reimburse testing costs remains, in part, a matter of discretion, but it would not be true to say that a district that received a waiver had no money for teacher training or teacher testing.

Monitoring exited students

Some members have been told that they must have an ESL certificate if they teach a student who has been exited from the program by the Language Proficiency Assessment Committee and is subject to monitoring. One rule, 19 TAC § 89.1220(k), states that the LPAC shall monitor, for the first two years after reclassification, the academic progress of each student who has met exit criteria. Another rule, 19 TAC § 89.1210(g) states that “the required bilingual…or ESL program shall be provided to every English learner with parental approval until such time that the student meets exit criteria.” Taken together, TCTA reads the two rules to indicate that a student subject to monitoring upon exit from the program is not in the same status as a student still enrolled in a bilingual or ESL program. As such, the enrollment of the exited student in a teacher’s class should not require that the teacher hold an ESL certificate.

Testing information

Pearson now administers certification testing, which includes testing for the “English as a Second Language Supplemental” certificate. Pearson provides a link to information about the test at http://www.tx.nesinc.com/PageView.aspx?f=GEN_Tests.html.

Will teachers be fired?

Some administrators have explicitly or implicitly suggested that teachers who do not get an ESL credential will be fired. Administrators cannot fire teachers with contracts; that takes board action. But a note of caution for teachers with probationary contracts: the need to hire appropriately certified teachers may lead some districts to terminate new teachers with probationary contracts. Districts have often resorted to terminating probationary contract teachers at the end of the year when the districts need to cut costs or conveniently reduce staff. TCTA members who have questions about their contracts, assignments or credentials may call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282 to speak with a staff attorney.