If the last year of virtual learning has taught us anything, it's how important our children's educators are. Teachers have been creating new lesson plans for distance education. They've become social workers providing extra support for struggling students. They've worried seeing how the pandemic has widened the inequities that plague our public education system.

Despite the caring nature of teachers' work, data shows that more than 43% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Minnesota is facing a debilitating teacher shortage, but instead of making the teacher licensing process less arduous and more transparent for skilled candidates, a legislative initiative threatens to push talented teachers out of the classroom.

The current House Education Finance omnibus bill includes many positive provisions around teacher licensure, but it also includes a proposal that is unintentionally harmful to school leaders' ability to hire and retain the teachers they need. One proposed measure in particular would block a pathway to a more permanent license for educators — many of them people of color — who have already demonstrated their effectiveness in the classroom.

There are currently four tiers in Minnesota's teacher licensing system. Each educator's licensure aligns with their academic background and professional experiences. Tiers 1 and 2 are temporary teaching licenses allowing professionals with a passion for teaching to fill vacancies in teacher shortage areas. Our current structure allows these educators to advance from Tiers 1 and 2 to more advanced professional licensures like Tiers 3 and 4 based on experience and high performance. This encourages greater diversity, access and flexibility to become an educator.

The current House Education Finance omnibus bill would remove that pathway. Instead, legislators want to require all educators to complete a teacher preparation program. Those legislators believe that educators who do not go through a teacher preparation program cannot effectively teach.

This is simply not true. In my experience as an educator, a learning coach and performance evaluator, the true art of teaching is learned in the classroom, not in college coursework alone. Teachers with a Tier 2 license already have college degrees, often advanced degrees. Completing an additional program is not only costly, but their unpaid teacher residency requirements are an investment most adults with financial responsibilities cannot afford.

Teacher training alone does not automatically produce the best teachers. A critical element of the current (and recently reformed) tiered licensure system is that it allows teachers to enter and stay in the classroom based on evidence of effectiveness.

Our existing system has helped increase teacher diversity in Minnesota by removing the economic burden of traditional teacher preparation programs. Research confirms many social, emotional, and academic benefits for both white students and students of color who learn from diverse teachers — yet in Minnesota, fewer than 6% of educators are people of color.

There is a significant teacher shortage and retention crisis in our state, and we need to do everything we can to solve it. Legislators must do their part and not adopt the Minnesota House changes to the tiered licensure program.

Paula Cole is the executive director of Educators for Excellence-Minnesota.