You might think that state agencies in Minnesota would be well attuned to state law. That’s why it’s both mystifying and disappointing that the state Board of Teaching can’t seem to get its act together when it comes to processing applications for some teacher licenses.
Twice in the last several months, the agency was reprimanded by courts for failing to follow state rules on alternative licensure. Last December, Ramsey County District Judge Shawn Bartsh said the board broke the law when it failed to operate the portfolio method of granting licenses.
Then early this month, Bartsh found the agency in contempt of her previous court order “for failing to let a plaintiff submit an application for an alternative teacher licensing program and not responding” to her. “This Court’s patience is at an end,” the July contempt order said.
Citizens who care about education should be at wit’s end, too. In addition to defiantly breaking the alternative licensure law, now the agency’s foot-dragging has come at a price. As a result of the contempt order, the Board of Teaching has to pay a teacher candidate plaintiff $7,000 in attorneys’ fees and other costs.
This series of unnecessary events began in spring 2015, when a group of educators sued the board, arguing that the agency arbitrarily denied licenses to qualified teachers — mostly from out of state.
Later that year, Bartsh ruled that the board violated state law when it stopped accepting licensing applications by portfolio in 2012. The portfolio process looks at experience and training in making licensing decisions. It is one of several ways prospective educators can be certified outside of the state’s traditional licensing requirements.
In addition to twice being ordered by the court to comply, the agency and the Minnesota Department of Education were sharply criticized in March by the state Office of the Legislative Auditor. The two state agencies have overlapping responsibilities for licensing; the board is supposed to set standards for candidates, while the department issues licenses.
The auditor found that the licensing process is confusing and overly complex, and it recommended that the function be handled by one agency. And in some cases, the auditor said, the licensure appeal process is inconsistent with state law.
Fixing Minnesota’s broken licensing process — including facilitating alternative licensure — is critical because the state faces shortages of teachers in coming years. The current system is seen as a barrier to recruiting and hiring educators, so legislators recently set up a task force to recommend systemic changes.
In the meantime, though, the agency must follow the law. It shouldn’t take another court reprimand — and more fines — for the agency to do to its work.