Some teachers are celebrating a ruling that should make it easier for out-of-state teachers to get licensed in Minnesota.
A Ramsey County District Court judge ruled last week that the state’s Board of Teaching violated state law when it failed to operate an alternative program to license out-of-state teachers and those looking to expand licenses.
A group of teachers filed suit in April, complaining that the board, an 11-member group that licenses the state’s teachers, arbitrarily denied licenses to qualified teachers for years.
“It’s a significant victory,” said Nathan Sellers, one of the teachers’ attorneys.
The alternative program, called licensure via portfolio, uses teachers’ experience and training to consider licensing. The court order said this process is often used for applicants who are qualified but whose backgrounds may not match Minnesota’s teacher licensing requirements.
Under the order issued by Judge Shawn Bartsh, the Board of Teaching must restore the alternative licensure program and accept applications. At the end of January, the board will have to prove its compliance with the order.
State law splits duties for the portfolio process between the board and the Department of Education, said Erin Doan, executive director of the Board of Teaching. “At this point, we’ll just continue to work on the clarification of where MDE’s responsibilities are and where the board’s responsibilities are,” she said.
Until 2012, more than 500 teachers received their licenses through the portfolio process, but none has been granted a license since, the court order said.
Staffing for the portfolio process, which was provided by the Department of Education, was cut in 2012, Doan said. MDE then announced discontinuation of the program, she said.
Other staff have been assigned to get the portfolio process going again, she said.
The Department of Education will be meeting with the Board of Teaching later this week to discuss the portfolio process, said Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.
When a portfolio application is submitted, it first goes through the department’s teacher licensing division; if it needs to be resubmitted, it goes through the Board of Teaching, said department spokesman Josh Collins.
The order means the Board of Teaching can no longer ignore the law, Sellers said.
“We’re hopeful that this will reopen an avenue under license via portfolio for out-of-state teachers looking to gain licensure or in-state teachers looking to expand their license,” he said.
Plaintiffs also argued that the board’s licensing process has been inconsistent. For example, plaintiff Tony Munsterman, who teaches music at Campbell-Tintah Public School in Campbell, has been teaching for 30 years and was licensed to teach K-12 music in North Dakota and Montana. But when he came back to Minnesota, he was told he needed an additional license.
He signed up for $6,000 in further schooling last year just as the Legislature changed the law to make the classes unnecessary. To expand his license, he plans to take a state licensure exam this month.
“If somebody has actually been doing this for as long as I have, at some point, it’s the equivalent of taking a test to prove that you can do it,” he said.