Legislators near approving licensing changes

Published 10:23 pm Monday, May 8, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislators are close to approving major changes in the way the state licenses teachers.

The proposed changes would consolidate standards and teacher licensing under a new Professional Educator Licensing Board, the Pioneer Press reported. It would create a four-tier system and streamline the process to license teachers who are trained out of state or have unconventional backgrounds.

“I hope the governor will see this as part of his legacy,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, who sat on a school board for a dozen years before joining the Legislature.

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Supporters said they hope the new system will help address Minnesota’s growing shortage of educators in key specialties, such as math, science and special education. The shortages are the most acute in the rural parts of the state.

The bills received bipartisan support in both chambers and include input from teachers, school leaders and state officials who have been pushing for years to fix a system many say is confusing and unfair. Still, lawmakers are working through controversial provisions in the bills before a compromise is sent to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Democrats and Brenda Cassellius, Dayton’s state education commissioner, said they worry about the qualifications candidates need to qualify for different license tiers. They said the standards in the lower tiers will lead to school officials hiring less qualified teachers.

“As we balance the current problem of teacher supply, we don’t want to rush to decisions that down the road might lessen the quality of the teachers who are in front of our kids,” Cassellius recently told lawmakers.

Republicans have rejected that argument, saying they trust school officials to hire the most qualified teachers they can find.

“If you have a teacher in the classroom that’s not doing the job, you are going to hear about it from parents,” Pratt said. “I trust our superintendents. I trust our school boards.”

The changes are set to be in place by this time next year if lawmakers are able to finish the bill and get it to the governor before the session ends May 22.