Senate OKs alternative teacher licensing

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2011 - 8:42 PM

Bill would allow people such as mid-career professionals to get a limited license.

By a 40-23 vote on Thursday, the Minnesota Senate approved an alternative teacher licensure bill that would streamline the process of becoming a teacher and provide another path to the classroom.

A companion bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee later on Thursday and could go to the full House next week.

The Senate vote was largely along party lines, with three DFLers joining the Republican majority in supporting it.

The legislation is designed to get more mid-career professionals and young people into teaching without having to go through the current, lengthy licensure process. It would allow candidates to earn two-year limited teaching licenses in order to prepare for earning standard licenses. They would still have to undergo a minimum of 200 hours of classroom preparation, pass exams in various subjects and have bachelor's degrees.

The Education Minnesota teachers union expressed disappointment at the Senate vote. Union officials have stressed that they agree with a streamlining of the licensure process. But they want provisions added to the bill that would require teachers licensed under such a system to have degrees in the fields they will be teaching and a 90-day period of supervision by licensed teachers.

Sen. Gen. Olson, sponsor of the Senate bill, said she thinks the measure will improve schools by injecting a new spirit into K-12 education. "When you have teachers entering classrooms who think they can make a difference and think all children can learn, it's been proven to make a difference," said Olson, R-Minnetrista.

The absence of an alternative licensure program was one of the reasons cited for the state missing out on tens of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funds last year.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL- Minnetonka, cited the support of numerous education and community organizations for the bill. She also noted the concerns of the teachers union that requirements under an alternative licensure program wouldn't be rigorous enough.

"I would never support anything that threatens the integrity of the teaching profession," she said. " ... Alternative licensure is working. Those states -- there are 35 of them -- that have alternative licensure have strong records of the success."

But Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, argued that requirements in the bill weren't stringent enough. "This is for anyone irrespective of grade point average and what your college major is," Wiger said.

Supporters of the bill argued that getting new blood into the profession is necessary to help narrow the achievement gap between white, middle-class students and low-income minority students. They cited the "Teach for America" program, in which college graduates work in schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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