For years, educators who aspired to teach in Minnesota have had to jump through a series of confusing and sometimes contradictory hoops. Some spent thousands of dollars on courses that were later dropped as licensing requirements. Even with years of teaching experience, some were told they had to do student teaching all over again. Others were denied Minnesota licenses without clear explanations, leading several to take legal action.
Now those complaints have been vindicated. A recent evaluation by the Office of the Legislative Auditor decisively says that Minnesota's teacher licensing system is broken and must be fixed. Lawmakers should use the report's recommendations as a starting point to clarify and streamline teacher licensing.
Part of the problem, the auditor's report confirms, is that two agencies have overlapping responsibilities for licensing — the state Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education. The board is supposed to set standards for candidates, while the Education Department issues licenses. Yet over the years, the lines between the two became blurred, making it easier for them to point fingers at each other when licenses were held up or improperly denied.
In addition to difficulties with the two agencies, the Legislature has passed various tweaks to the statutes over the years, further complicating licensing and turning it into a moving target. The auditor's office found that licensing criteria were confusing, poorly defined and difficult to understand. Multiple exceptions or waivers, the report said, have led to "numerous loopholes and meaningless standards."
And in some cases, the auditor found that the Board of Teaching's own licensure appeal process is inconsistent with state law.
"We are concerned that there are two different sets of standards right now," said Judy Randall, evaluation manager for the legislative auditor. She said that out-of-state teachers seem to be held to an ill-defined set of criteria and that " … the most important thing is to level the playing field."
To fix the mess that the licensing process has become, the auditor makes several recommendations for legislative action. Chief among them is consolidating all licensing activities under one state entity. Other smart recommendations include rewriting state statutes on licensing requirements to make them clearer. And if a license is denied, the governing body should clearly spell out applicants' shortcomings and make sure the appeal process is consistent with the law.
To their credit, both state offices said that they agreed with the auditor's findings and that they are already working on improvements. Still, some of the changes must be made by the Legislature. To that end, this week the state Senate Education Committee is expected to discuss the report and hear a bill that includes many of the report's recommendations.
The overhaul of the licensing system should have occurred years ago. With significant teacher shortages on the horizon, Minnesota must do more to welcome qualified educators from other states — not turn them away.