A bill that would provide more flexible requirements to enter teacher preparation programs could lead to a more diverse workforce and help address the state's teacher shortage, local officials said.

House Bill 1621, authored by Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, of the 13th Legislative District which covers part of Yakima County, would provide more flexibility to colleges and universities to admit education students by making adjustments to the basic skills assessment requirements.

Ybarra said the bill was aimed toward district paraeducators and parent volunteers who might be rusty in topics included in the WEST-B exam required to enter educator programs. Instead of a high test score being a necessity to be admitted, the bill would allow colleges and universities to weigh things like candidates’ past experience, volunteerism, professional development and letters of recommendation alongside their score to broaden teacher preparation acceptance rates.

“Yes, they still have to take that test, but that shouldn’t be the only item that’s going to keep them out of school,” Ybarra said Monday. “We want all that body of work that they’ve done over time to go to the colleges.”

The bill will help provide a more diverse body of teachers, said Melissa Matczak, director of the Yakima Valley College bachelor’s teacher education program launched last year.

“The thing that is most valuable from my perspective, especially for Yakima Valley College, is that we’ll be able to support students who typically would not have access to a teacher prep program due to a lot of the testing barriers,” she said. “It may be a financial barrier due to the cost, it may be a language barrier or it could be a cultural barrier.”

While the teacher exam will still exist, she said, this will provide a more rounded view of applicants.

“Now we can consider everybody. It definitely will be opening doors for a more diverse workforce. All students still need to go through a rigorous teacher prep program. At the end of it, we’re hoping there are more teachers of color that graduate -- that more are welcomed and able to access the program,” Matczak said. “It’s definitely a positive impact for all teacher prep programs, not just Yakima Valley but across the state.”

Ybarra said the bill could help with the state's teacher shortage, which has been apparent in the Yakima area.

“We need more teachers. We have a teacher shortage, so this bill is going to help that teacher shortage,” he added.

Ybarra said the bill would have a significant impact on rural districts such as Sunnyside, Wapato and Zillah, which might struggle to recruit and retain teachers amid more competitive wages in bigger districts. Paraeducators and parent volunteers with roots in the community would likely return to these schools after finishing their programs, he said.

The bill, which was Ybarra’s first as a House representative, was approved unanimously by the House before receiving a majority approval of 42-2 in the Senate on Friday. It now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.