Teacher licensing overhaul makes legislative progress; House bill consolidates powers under new board

Published 10:25 am Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By Christopher Magan

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

The Minnesota Legislature is moving ahead with what many agree is a long overdue overhaul of the way the state licenses educators.

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The House approved a bill Monday afternoon with a 76-55 vote that will transfer licensing powers away from the state Department of Education and Board of Teaching and consolidate it under a new Professional Educator Licensing Board. The legislation also creates a new four-tiered licensing system that lawmakers hope will be easier for prospective educators to understand.

“Our state is facing a teacher shortage, and it is more important than ever that we get the most effective teachers in our classrooms,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who chairs the House Education Innovation Policy committee and is chief sponsor of the bill. “For too long the difficulty of navigating the licensure process has served as a barrier to getting qualified and motivated individuals into careers in education.”

Democrats expressed concerns the new tiered licensing system could lead to some school districts hiring less qualified teachers to save money.

The new tiered system provides licenses, of varying lengths of time, for educators with different amounts of training and experience.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, tried to amend the bill to require school officials to try to hire educators with the more difficult to obtain third- and fourth-tier licenses before offering positions to teachers with first- and second-tier licenses that are only good for a year.

“Why not have the best-prepared professionals as defined in this framework,” Mariani asked his House colleagues.” Why not place the best-prepared folks in front of your children?”

Erickson responded that it was absurd to think school leaders wouldn’t hire the best teachers they could find. Mariani’s amendment failed on a 59-70 vote.

Legislation similar to Erickson’s bill is working its way through the Senate.

Changes to Minnesota’s educator licensing process come after years of criticism that the current system is unfair and confusing.

In 2015, a group of teachers filed a lawsuit against the state saying it was too difficult for educators trained out-of-state or in alternative programs to receive a license. The case is ongoing, but the plaintiffs have already won a few important decisions.

Last year, the state legislative auditor reviewed the licensing system and recommended a broad overhaul.

Many of those changes were put into Erickson’s legislation.

Minnesota faces a shortage of teachers in key specialties like math, science and special education. State leaders hope streamlining the licensing process will help attract and retain more educators and diversify the teaching force.

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