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Don’t undermine Minnesota Legislature’s education reforms

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

As part of the state’s multibillion-dollar E-12 education package, Minnesota lawmakers approved two long-awaited and much-needed provisions governing teaching jobs. Under the new legislation, the state’s teacher licensing system was overhauled to make it more streamlined and less complicated. Overall, the changes create an easier, more sensible path to obtaining a license to teach in Minnesota.

The Legislature and governor also rightly repealed the provision in state law that makes seniority the sole factor in determining which educators are laid off when positions are cut for budget reasons. Known as LIFO, or last in, first out, the rule had been the legal fallback position when school districts and teacher unions had not negotiated exceptions to seniority-based layoffs. Removing LIFO from state statutes allows district managers more latitude to consider other factors when making staff reductions. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate seniority as a consideration, but it will no longer be the default.

Fixing the state’s overly complex licensing system is especially needed in light of growing teacher shortages in some subject areas and the need to help districts recruit more teachers of color — not to mention fixing a system that was the subject of a scathing report by the respected Office of the Legislative Auditor last year. Generally, the new licensing process addresses many of the problems outlined by the legislative auditor. The auditor evaluation called the current system “broken” because its rules are too complex, confusing and inconsistent. Currently, the licensing process presents too many unnecessary barriers to hiring teachers from other states as well as needed experts in specialty subject areas.

The new licensing process, which was developed by a bipartisan work group of legislators, creates the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) to take over teacher licensing from the Department of Education and the State Board of Teaching. The new 11-member licensing body will be appointed by the governor and will issue credentials under a tiered system that includes alternative methods to license educators.

Even though Gov. Mark Dayton signed the E-12 bill last week and agrees with most of it, he now says licensing standards should be revisited. Dayton and the powerful teachers union, Education Minnesota, believe one provision would diminish teacher quality by granting longer-term licenses to those without traditional educational backgrounds.

Dayton feels so strongly about that issue and others that he used a line-item veto to try to force GOP legislators back to the bargaining table. On Tuesday, the governor requested a meeting with legislative leaders to work through remaining differences without a court fight over his move to defund the Legislature.

The governor and legislators should be able to reach a compromise on licensing so that teachers who demonstrate their competency over several years under one tier of licensure could gain eligibility for a more permanent license.

Overall, the LIFO and licensing changes are positive steps that should improve E-12 education in Minnesota. Any further negotiations should recognize that fact and not undermine the constructive reforms.