BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–The state education board voted Tuesday to amend licensing regulations in an effort to address the statewide teacher shortage.

The amendments create an easier pathway for already-licensed teachers to be able to teach special education and English as a second language and create a new license for pre-K teachers of students with disabilities. The board also voted to create a new provisional license for school nurses, who are also understaffed in Massachusetts districts.

Heading into the 2022-2023 school year, 48 percent of district leaders in the Northeast felt they were understaffed, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In Boston, there were about 900 positions available — including 219 teacher vacancies, CBS reported.

“As you look at the kind of shortages that we have in districts — well, across the country, let alone in this state — there’s really little evidence that those are going to magically disappear in the short- to medium-term,” said Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Vice Chair Matt Hills.

The board voted Tuesday after a two-month public comment period, during which they received over 350 responses, which the department described as generally “in favor of the proposed changes.” Among the changes is an amendment that would allow licensed teachers to obtain a provisional license in a new educational field, which current regulations do not allow. This change would open doors for interested teachers to be licensed to teach special education or English as a second language — fields where there are currently significant shortages.

Of the members of the public who offered comments on this amendment, 68 percent said they were in favor of the change.

Teachers eligible for the provisional license still must satisfy subject matter knowledge requirements. For special education, the applicant would need to have at least two years of experience modifying the curriculum for students with disabilities. To gain an ESL license, teachers will be required to have at least two years of experience in second language acquisition and sheltering content for English learners.

Another change would create two new licenses for early educators to teach students with disabilities. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education currently offers licenses to teach students with moderate and severe disabilities in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. As these teachers could be placed in late-elementary or middle schools, they must pass a general curriculum MTEL test under current regulations. In the amendment approved on Tuesday, teachers with an early childhood license would not need to pass another MTEL test.

With this change, the department intends to remove a barrier by bypassing the general curriculum testing requirement.

This was one of the most popular of the proposed amendments, with 80 percent of those who offered public comment agreeing with the change. “This license I’m particularly excited about — I’m excited about all of these — but this one does put a smile on my face knowing the challenges sometimes of finding highly qualified and diverse educators to work with our youngest students with disabilities,” said senior associate commissioner at the department’s Center for District Support Russell Johnston.

He added later, “We think that this addition of a new license for moderate and severe special ed teachers in these primary grades, in these early childhood grades, will be very useful to expanding educators coming into this role. And I’ve personally heard from educators who’ve wanted to move into this type of role who I think will personally benefit from this type of licensure option that we make available.”

The updates also aim to establish a new entry point to become a school nurse, as nurses are in short supply in both schools and hospitals across the state.

The regulation change would create a new provisional license for school nurses, under which they would still need to pass the communication and literacy skills MTEL exam, have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, and possess a valid nursing license.

“We really want to encourage as many effective nurses to come into nursing in schools as possible,” Johnston said.