With the ultimate goal of improving achievement among all Minnesota students, state lawmakers are considering legislation to help boost the numbers of K-12 teachers of color.

The Increase Teachers of Color Act (HF 217), authored by Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, encompasses a number of strategies, including increasing mentoring opportunities, helping unlicensed school staff become teachers and hiring bonuses for out-of-state teaching candidates. State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, has a companion bill in the Senate.

Similar bills stalled in committee in 2019 and 2020. This legislation should advance. In addition, lawmakers should heed recent recommendations from the legislative auditor to clarify and streamline various state efforts with similar goals.

It's critical work because as the student population has changed, teaching ranks have not. About 34% of Minnesota students are kids of color, while only 5% of their teachers come from racially diverse backgrounds. And that 5% figure has remained relatively flat in recent years.

Studies show that having more racial diversity among teachers is academically helpful for students of color. The benefits include improved reading and math test scores, better graduation rates and increased interest in attending college. Putting more teachers of color into classrooms could also help reduce Minnesota's stubbornly entrenched achievement and opportunity gaps.

Existing diversity efforts also need scrutiny. A legislative auditor's report released last week found that a state grant aimed at increasing the number of teachers of color slightly increased the numbers.

But the report added that more must be done to collect and report data in uniform ways. The lack of reliable data makes it difficult to evaluate the impact of the program. The report also recommended that lawmakers clarify the criteria for how the grants can spent.

The Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color (CUGMEC) grant program dates back to 1997 but has changed over the years. In 2020-21, eight state higher education institutions received $970,000 under the program and used nearly all of it to provide direct assistance to teacher candidates for such costs as tuition, books and exam fees.

Demand was much higher, however, with $2.7 million in requests received. Advocates want to see the grant program's budget raised from $1 million to $6 million to increase the pool of aspiring teachers.

The auditor's report rightly suggests that lawmakers consider the array of programs that can impact the number of teachers of color and determine how the grant program fits into the big picture. State Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the House Education Finance Division, said he expected committee members to work on improving the programs.

Meanwhile, Hassan's bill has gained support from about 40 organizations — including education associations, teachers unions and youth groups — and it deserves the Legislature's full attention this year.