State lawmakers rewrote the rules Tuesday for who can be licensed to teach in Minnesota, and how.
The House and Senate passed a sweeping, Republican-backed overhaul of Minnesota's troubled teacher licensing system and sent the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton, despite doubts that he would sign it. The DFL governor's education commissioner said she would advise Dayton to block the bill unless Republicans come up with more money to implement the changes they want to make.
A bipartisan task force spent more than a year working on reforms they hoped would get qualified educators into classrooms as Minnesota faces a teacher shortage.
"We had a broken system and it needed fixing," said bill sponsor Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, saying the measure would streamline the labyrinthine system for getting teachers into the classrooms. A major goal is making the process easier for qualified teachers from outside the state, who sometimes spend years working their way through Minnesota's licensing maze.
The legislation would create a new streamlined licensing system, headed by a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. It also would expand the category of people who could be licensed as teachers to include so-called "community experts" who come into the classroom to instruct students in specialized topics and trades. The new lower-tier teaching positions would not be unionized.
Most DFLers balked at the final version of the bill, worried that it could relax standards to the point where any warm body in the classroom would do. As the bill passed through the House and Senate, DFLers argued that the solution to Minnesota's teacher shortage has more to do with providing teachers with better pay and more support — not by bringing more non-teachers into the classrooms.
"If there was a shortage of electricians or firefighters, police officers, nurses or plumbers or lawyers, I don't think we'd be looking at ways to make it easier to enter those professions," said Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, who spent decades as a high school teacher. A third of Minnesota teachers leave the profession after five years.
"If this bill passes, there will be a teacher shortage," Cwodzinski said. He predicted that community experts would be unprepared for the multifaceted demands of the job: "When ... they find out that we have papers to grade 'til midnight and curriculum meetings that go 'til five on Fridays and classroom management issues, and safety and discipline ... and Lord help them when they're told you can't go potty until the bell rings," he said.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius issued a statement Tuesday saying she would advise that Dayton not support the bill until the Legislature ensures there will be money in the budget to deliver the policy changes.