RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia’s Board of Education held an emergency meeting Thursday to automatically renew thousands of teacher licenses set to expire at the end of June, a decision the state said would help address a record-high backlog and keep delays from impacting schools next year.

Dr. Lisa Coons, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, pointed to changes in the teacher licensure process and a backlog of applications as issues the state is dealing with before the board voted to extend licenses that were slated to expire on June 30 for another year.

“We have experienced unprecedented licensure changes and backlogs over the past several years,” Dr. Coons said Thursday. “During the pandemic, renewable licenses were extended several times, which has created an end date right now.”

Board members praised Coons for moving forward with the emergency action to automatically renew 15,500 teacher licenses, citing Virginia’s teacher shortage crisis and the ongoing delays in the process.

According to the education department, its Office of Teacher Education and Licensure (TEAL) is struggling with “significant delays” in issuing licenses. The delays have impacted teachers’ ability to get and maintain employment, the department said.

“With the systemic processing challenges within TEAL, VDOE is not currently equipped to process these requests in a timely manner, which will impact thousands of teachers, students, and families across the Commonwealth,” the agenda item document submitted by the education department stated.

According to figures provided in the document, Virginia’s teacher vacancy rate was 3.85% — 3,602 teachers – at the start of the 2022-23 school year. The vacancy rate has increased by more than 26% from October 2021 to October 2022, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped by 35% in the last five years, according to the state.

Even with the vote, the state says there are still 2,000 pending initial teaching license requests for TEAL to review. In the agenda document, Coons described the move as an “effective and efficient short-term solution” to address the licensing challenges Virginia is facing.

“This emergency regulation, as presented, is appropriate given the impact the delays, and backlog will have on students, families, educators, teacher applicants, and school divisions,” the document reads.

The department is looking to hire more employees for the licensure team, implement a new organizational framework within TEAL and conduct an audit of the licensure division’s procedures regarding its process.