State legislatures are moving forward with Senate Bill 361, opening opportunities for military veterans to become teachers without securing traditional education requirements.

 On Sept. 26, State Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) proposed the bill in effort to combat the teacher shortage.

The bill allows Ohio school districts to hire unlicensed veterans who have at least four years of active duty military service, received an honorable discharge and letter from commanding officer.

While legislatures view the bill as a good idea to combat the scarcity of teachers, Ohio educators are questioning the necessity for the bill given the  established alternative licensure program for military personnel.

 Since 1993, national program Troops to Teachers helps eligible veterans start a new career in teaching K-12 schools. The program facilitates the process of obtaining a teachers license, a condition that Senate Bill 361 eliminates.

Ohio Education Association President, Scott DiMauro, tells 21 news the proposed bill is a watered down version of an effective law. 

"We don't need a new bill, we already have a program in place that I think addresses the needs that this bill is trying to address," DiMauro said.

DiMauro posits TTP is one alternative that upholds educational integrity and quality. 

"In order to address the educator shortage, we have to make sure we have quality training and professional development for everyone who is serving our students in the classroom," he said.

In tandem with the aforementioned requirements in Senate Bill 361, interested veterans must satisfy several other prerequisites:

  • Earned a master training specialist certification from the United States Navy.
  • Served as a training officer or lead instructor while in armed forces.
  • Served as a noncommissioned officer, a warrant officer or a senior enlisted person. 
  • Completed at least 60 college credits with a grade point average of at least 2.5 from an accredited educational institution.
  • Demonstrates mastery of subject area to be taught.

School districts are not required to comply with the bill but under its code, newly employed veterans must successfully complete 15 hours or equivalent of course work every five years. Veterans will also be subject to criminal record background checks.

If the permissive bill passes, to ensure quality standards are met, school districts reserve the right to determine what school subject best fits the veteran. 

Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), cosponsor of the bill, says it tackles two crucial issues that have plagued communities for some time now. 

"We do have a shortage of qualified teachers in our schools --related to covid and its after effects-- and we want to make sure our [children] have proper instructions in our schools," Cirino said.

Adding, " When [veterans] are discharged and leave the military we want to help them find gainful employment and we also want to take advantage of the great experience they have in the particular areas that they have specialized in when they were in the service."

Although TTP provides an alternative pathway for veterans to earn a teaching license, Senate Bill 361 poses as a short term solution offering employment to apparent qualified veterans.

"A lot of [veterans] when they are discharged, they're leaving perhaps what was a very long career in the military and they might do this for a short period of time. Maybe they have an interest in contributing to our educational issues right now. But they are not going to bother with going through full licensure, student teaching and all those things," Cirino said.

Notwithstanding, Cirino believes the bill and TTP are less adversarial than they are complementary of each other.

"What we want to do is a short term solution to the problem [and] bringing people in, giving them access, even if its for a few years, to be able to impart their experience and knowledge on our students and help our school systems fill the gaps that they are experiencing," he said. 

Educators tell 21 news they have great respect and admiration for veterans, but as valuable as military experience is, it does not equate to working with children in K-12 classrooms.

Minerva High School teacher, Julie Holderbaum espoused a perspective similar to DiMauro's, believing there is an art and science attached to educating youths that should not be overlooked. 

"A lot of people think [because] they've been through school, they know what a teachers job is [but] it's a lot more nuanced than that," Holderbaum says, adding "Certainly it takes leadership, so I can understand why veterans generally have some good training in leadership --and that's certainly an asset for a teacher-- but there's a lot more to it than that" 

From creating lesson plans, developing relationships with students and parents to adapting to new curriculum; Holderbaum says having four years of military experience does not guarantee a successful and effective teacher for children. 

The sacrifices teachers make year-round is not lost on Cirino. He says his appreciation for teachers is abundant and educators should view this bill as an advantageous condition for student improvement.

"The administrators and the faculty should hopefully look at this in terms of what's good for the systems and what's good for the children and not look at it from the standpoint of 'What impact does it have on what I happen to do?' " he says. 

Cirino tells 21 News, military personnel offer unique training in technical training subjects like telecommunications and science.

"This is about the students and making the right kind of experienced teachers available and making some changes to revised code to give school systems the flexibility to use this talent when it's accessible to them," he said. 

Following the mid-term election, Senate Bill 361 will makes its way through the senate and house for final determination.