As a school board member, there is nothing more frustrating than having to turn away or let go of an educator we know is effective and leaving a teaching position unfilled. This leads to classes and programs being cut, to the school year starting without teachers in the classroom, and to teachers having to leave their posts even though they've proven themselves as great educators — and even though school leaders and students want them to stay.
Yet this is what happens under Minnesota's current teacher licensure system; it is students who suffer most.
There's been a lot of news and noise recently about this issue. As an outstate school board member, and president of the Minnesota School Boards Association, I've been paying close attention. I know how much our licensure system effects Minnesota students. And I also know, as this paper's Editorial Board has explained ("Don't undermine Minnesota Legislature's education reforms," June 7), that the bipartisan licensure overhaul the Legislature passed this year — and the governor signed — will take important steps forward to fix it.
Teacher licensure has been in the news for years because, quite simply, our current system is broken, a fact confirmed last year by a report from the nonpartisan, highly respected Office of the Legislative Auditor.
This broken system has negative effects on districts, schools and, ultimately, students across the state. Due to growing teacher shortages and stagnant educator diversity, school leaders from Minneapolis to Moorhead have been facing mounting barriers to hiring the teachers our students need and deserve.
Too often, when school administrators have found teachers we wish to hire — a science teacher trained in Wisconsin, a special education teacher with 10 years of experience in California, a lifelong music educator right here in Minnesota who lacks conventional teacher training — our archaic licensure system has tied our hands.
We've had to turn away teachers altogether or, perhaps even worse, let them go even after they've proven themselves in Minnesota classrooms. Once the "variance" that allowed them to teach in Minnesota for only a few years expires, their only choice has been to spend years and thousands of dollars on redundant coursework or to leave teaching entirely. Understandably, but sadly, too many have chosen the latter.
I applaud our legislators for working to fix this broken licensure system. During the past few years, and with a renewed sense of urgency since the legislative auditor's recommendations came out last spring, they have been partnering across the aisle to find a solution.
Their process has been remarkably thorough. A bipartisan legislative study group convened last summer and, after dozens of meetings and thousands of hours of discussion, that group's unanimous recommendations were debated and improved upon throughout this year's session. Legislators afforded ample time for community input, and tweaked the legislation in response to feedback from teachers, school leaders, school board members, the Minnesota Department of Education and Gov. Mark Dayton.
What this exhaustive process led to is a straightforward, tiered licensure structure that will create fair pathways into the classroom while honoring the flexibility that school leaders need, particularly during shortages. This new structure will clarify and, in many cases, raise standards, and establish for the first time a floor for "emergency" licenses. Before employing a teacher with one of these licenses ("Tier 1"), school leaders will now have to demonstrate that they couldn't find a more qualified candidate. And the educators themselves will have to fulfill academic requirements, complete cultural competency training and more.
Minnesotans should be proud of the licensure overhaul the governor signed into law and the bipartisan process that produced it. We should now work together to ensure that the overhaul is implemented promptly and with fidelity. Our students can't wait any longer.
Kathryn Green is a member of the Austin School Board and president of the Minnesota School Boards Association.