Lawmakers still think they can agree on teacher licensing overhaul

Published 8:24 am Monday, May 22, 2017

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

An effort overhauling the way Minnesota licenses teachers still has a chance to become law this session as the Legislature rushes to complete its work by midnight Monday.

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Late Friday, lawmakers signaled they were still working to update the bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed Thursday because it lacked the estimated $3.5 million in funding needed to implement the changes. Dayton also said the new system made it too easy for people without professional teacher training to get a permanent license.

“I’m optimistic we can work that one out,” the governor said Friday night. “I hope the Legislature will pass it again and I’ll sign it.”

Dayton’s veto blindsided the Republican supporters of the legislation who thought when they passed the bill Tuesday that Brenda Cassellius, state education commissioner, would recommend the governor sign the bill.

Republicans maintain that funding for the licensing changes belongs in the education budget and that the licensing standards under the new system would be more rigorous than what is in place now.

“I thought it was a good compromise,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, the chief sponsor in the Senate. “We had the rug pulled out from under us.”

Pratt and other lawmakers have been talking with Cassellius and are willing to make modest changes to the bill, but it’s unclear if it will be enough to win Dayton’s signature.

Deadline approaches

With time running short, any compromise bill might have to be rolled into the education budget.

“I talked to the commissioner and I know she wants a standalone bill, but there’s not enough time,” Pratt said.

Putting the licensing overhaul in the education budget could be problematic because Dayton has criticized Republicans for including policy provisions in budget bills. GOP leaders have countered that all budgets passed by the Legislature have included policy.

If approved, the educator licensing overhaul would consolidate work now done by the state Board of Teaching and the Department of Education under a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

The board would credential teachers in a new, four-tiered system based on their qualifications and experience.

It would also improve transparency around licensing denials and improve the system for teachers trained in other states or in unconventional ways.

Filling open positions

School leaders and education advocates have long pushed for changes to the current system they say is confusing and unfair to some applicants. Last year, a state Legislative Auditor’s report largely agreed with those criticisms.

School officials hope the changes will make it easier for them to find candidates for hard to fill positions in math, science, special education and for career and technical high school courses.

But teachers union leaders, who applauded Dayton’s veto of the bill, maintain it’s not just the licensing system that makes it hard to fill jobs. With roughly one in three new teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, union leaders say better pay and resources are needed for teachers and schools.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.