Patricia Mueller: Increasing diversity in education

Published 6:30 am Saturday, January 30, 2021

No matter where one lands on the political spectrum, education is important.  We have all witnessed how our students, teachers and parents have been affected by this pandemic.  Since the beginning of session, Education Finance and Policy meetings have been discussing how best to improve education for students across our state. As a teacher, my goal has always been to ensure that our students get the best education they can.

This week, our Education committees have focused on how to bring more diversity into the classroom – in particular, how we increase the number of teachers of color, which is a goal all members support.  Our student populations continue to be more diverse while our teacher population is majority white women.  When teachers from diverse backgrounds enter the classroom, all students benefit.  Legislators differ on how we can rectify this imbalance.  We already know that the policy passed in prior years establishing a tiered teacher licensure system has brought in more teachers of color. We need to take that success and build on it.

The bill we heard this week tries to solve this problem by directing funds towards new grants and pilot programs and new curriculum.  Rather than spend new money, I believe it is important to update policies that would have a direct impact on hiring and retaining teachers of color.

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One of my colleagues offered an amendment that would work within existing appropriations to make changes to how the tiered licenses are treated in hiring or giving unrequested leaves of absence, ending the last-in-first-out “LIFO” system, expanding the Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color Grant Program to more teachers, and expanding the “Grow Your Own” Paraprofessional Pathway to Teacher Licensure program. These policy changes are tangible ways to increase the number of teachers of color without increasing the deficit.

In addition to addressing the lack of teacher diversity, I am also working on legislation that would  support the local schools by giving them more flexibility and autonomy in how they hire short-call substitute teachers.  I have been working on a bill that I hope to introduce soon pertaining to the qualifications for short-call substitutes – subs who are in a particular classroom for 15 or fewer days in a row.

My bill would allow schools to hire individuals who meet the professional standards under the Tier 1 licensed requirements and who pass a background check. Our schools have faced severe teacher shortages due to COVID, and this bill would help them keep schools fully staffed so that our students can continue learning.

We need to spend our taxpayer dollars wisely, spending on tangible steps that will have a positive impact. I will continue to work hard to advance policies that will improve our education system, increase the number of teachers of color in our classrooms, and close our achievement gap. I look forward to robust debates in committee and strong bipartisan support for policies that will strengthen our schools.