CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senators are weighing whether county school systems need broadened abilities to hire teachers who have received certificates through alternative programs.

The bill has passed the House already. It was taken up in Senate Education this morning.

Kanawha County school officials testified before the committee, saying they would benefit from greater flexibility to staff positions that have been difficult to fill.

The Kanawha officials said they would prefer fully-certified teachers fill every position. But, in imperfect situations, they would prefer the latitude to avoid staffing unfilled positions with substitutes who may not know the subjects well at all.

“I think it would solve a few problems for Kanawha County, yes,” said Elaine Gayton, the director of professional development in Kanawha County schools.

“Right now we have a lot of substitutes in positions — they’re not certified at all; they may be in long-term positions. And they may be very good. There’s really no training for education at all. This gives us an alternative.”

Boiled down, they hope to remove a work experience requirement for those they are allowed to hire.

The bill essentially crosses out two sentences that have been in state law:

Have relevant academic or occupational qualifications that reasonably indicate that the person will be competent to fill the teaching position in which he or she would be employed. For the purposes of this section, “reasonably indicate” means an academic major or occupational area the same as or similar to the subject matter to which the alternative program teacher is being hired to teach.

“We have very high demand for special education and math positions,” said Kimberly Olsen, human resources specialist with Kanawha County schools.

Teachers unions, who have fought for weeks for greater pay and health benefits to attract and keep members of their professions in West Virginia schools, oppose the bill.

“We need to kill the bill,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “We already have alternative certification in West Virginia right now. And what we have now is working.

“This is just another dig at lowering certification, and it’s just a dig at teachers in our view.”

Lee acknowledged that there is a general need for alternative certification right now. But he believes the situation will improve with the pay raises teachers were guaranteed Tuesday.

“Hopefully the action we did yesterday is the first step to putting the investment into education so we can get our salaries to the point that they’re competitive, where we won’t need things like this in the future,” Lee said.

Democrats on the committee also questioned the need. They asked questions expressing a worry about lowered standards in classrooms.

“I don’t think alternative certification is a good program to begin with. It’s really an act of desperation in our state because we’re unable to fill our teacher positions with certified teachers so we’ve come up with, quite frankly, alternative certification,” said Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison.

“Now what we’re doing is we’re going to dumb it down a little further so that not only will the people not need to be certified teachers but they won’t even have to have the requisite one year of experience in the field they’re going to teach in.”