Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Minnesota legislators made an unnecessary, ill-advised change in teacher licensing rules during the just-completed 2023 session. Instead of continuing with an option to hire new educators outside traditional education programs, they made it harder for teachers who come through alternative routes to get permanent licenses.

The move undermines a licensing provision that has helped increase the numbers of teachers of color and teachers in specialty, hard-to-fill subject areas. The Legislature should have left the licensing system as amended and adopted a few years ago.

Supporters of the change — including the powerful Education Minnesota teachers union — argue that aspiring teachers should go through traditional education degree programs. But many of those who have evaluated educators hired through alternative programs say they have successfully brought new talent into state classrooms.

By way of background: Following years of criticism about confusing, inconsistent teacher licensing and a scathing 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report, lawmakers in 2017 approved sweeping changes to the licensing system. The OLA recommended a more streamlined system, and legislators took that advice and approved a much-improved process for teachers to obtain full licenses.

That legislation created four tiers for being hired and advancing to full licensure: community experts, midcareer professionals transitioning into teaching, newer teachers and master-mentor teachers. There are several entries to the first two tiers and opportunities to rise to the higher tiers for better pay and benefits. Some teachers could advance to full licenses, while others had to return to college or student teaching.

Josh Crosson, executive director of EdAllies, told an editorial writer that the alternative pathways led to an increase in the percentage of teachers of color in Minnesota from about 4% up to nearly 7% while also attracting additional special education teachers and those filling needs in other specialty areas.

According to the state Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, 775 teachers are teaching under a Tier 2 license out of more than 112,000 licensed teachers and licensed related service providers. Many in the Tier 2 category are teachers of color. And while those currently teaching would be grandfathered in with the ability to move to Tier 3 or 4, no new educators could go that route.

"The Legislature wanted to take us back to just valuing traditional teacher training programs," Crosson said. "But we should also value training, experience and evaluations that serve students well."

Groups such as EdAllies Minnesota, Advancing Equity Coalition and groups representing school administrators objected to the 2023 change in legislative hearings before it was adopted. In letters to lawmakers during the session, the Minneapolis school board and the school superintendent in Hopkins said the alternative licensing system helped schools make quality hires.

Most school districts wanted to stick with the alternative licensing system, said Deb Henton, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "They can point to really wonderful teachers who were able to get a teacher's license in a different format than perhaps people are used to," she said.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board has consistently advocated for alternative licensure, arguing that new pathways were needed to address teacher shortages and diversify the teaching ranks. Lawmakers should reconsider in 2024.