Peggy Bennett: It’s not the end for teacher licensure bill

Published 11:32 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

As a longtime teacher, it was my goal to help every child in my classroom succeed. In the Legislature, this goal takes on a whole new meaning when we’re trying to reach every learner in the state. It has been a real pleasure for me to go from helping students in my classroom, to now helping students at the state level.

Recently, a bipartisan group of legislators in the House and Senate passed major reforms to a very broken teacher licensure system. These reforms were developed in response to a 2016 report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, which identified significant flaws in our current licensure system and gave recommendations on how to fix those flaws. The audit found the current licensing system extremely difficult to navigate and a deterrent for many to become licensed, even those who were already proven, quality teachers from another state.

Peggy Bennett

Email newsletter signup

For too long, the difficulty of navigating the licensure process has served as a barrier to getting qualified and motivated individuals into careers in education. I am proud to be a co-author on this bill, which provides real solutions for this broken licensure system. It was a pleasure to be able to work on this bill with both my Education Policy Committee colleagues, and then later to help craft the final compromise as a member of the bill’s Senate/House conference committee.

Our teacher licensure bill provides more clarity and streamlines the licensing process in several ways. First, we establish a four-tiered licensure framework that ensures high standards and transparency, and also allows more avenues to obtain licensure.

In addition, the bill creates a provision to utilize the valuable skillsets of career and technical education instructors within the tiered framework, along with other professionals. For example, a professional with 20 years’ experience working as a carpenter could apply to be a part-time technical education instructor in our high school.

We already have hundreds of these “community experts” teaching in our schools throughout the state right now. Community experts, in one form or another, have taught in our schools for over 30 years. This limited license component sets standards and safeguards for this group, and is an important component of this bill — especially for our rural schools where teacher shortages have reached a critical point. This provision allows our rural schools to provide options and variety for their students that they otherwise would not be able to offer.

Lastly, this bill creates a new Professional Educator Licensing Board to manage the new tiered system and provide increased transparency throughout the process.

Lawmakers, education support groups and other interested parties such as the commissioner of education and Education Minnesota (the teacher’s union) spent over 1,000 hours of working together on a compromise bill throughout a three-year period. This bill is supported by the likes of the Minnesota School Boards Association, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, EdAllies, Educators 4 Excellence-Minnesota and many more.

Sadly, despite all this work, collaboration and compromise, the governor recently vetoed this bill full of common-sense reform that would help countless young learners around the state. This was incredibly frustrating and a real letdown for all who worked on this bill.

To solve the problems facing our schools, we need to think outside the box. We need to get outside of the status quo. That’s what’s going to help students in our local schools, rural Minnesota and throughout the state. We need a toolbox with many options, and that’s what this bill and proposed structure would have given us.

Though a setback, this is not the end for this bill, nor will it be the end of our efforts to fix this broken teacher licensing system. I will continue to advocate for needed improvements in all areas of our educational system to help every single child in Minnesota receive a quality education.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.