Bipartisan group of lawmakers call for action on proposed Increase Teachers of Color Act

    Yahanna Mackbee, a junior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, urged the Legislature to pass the Increase Teachers of Color Act during a news conference on Feb. 24, 2021.

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined teachers and students on Thursday to urge the Legislature to pass a bill that aims to recruit and retain more teachers of color in Minnesota.

    Minnesota’s teacher workforce has remained overwhelmingly white even as children of color make up a growing share of the population — about 5% of Minnesota teachers were people of color during the 2018-19 school year, compared to roughly 34% of students.

    The Increase Teachers of Color Act has been introduced each year since 2017 without success, but advocates are hoping bipartisan support and the nationwide racial reckoning after George Floyd’s death will give the bill momentum to become law this year.

    “If this is not the year that we make change, I don’t think that there will be another year that we will have this opportunity,” said Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, during a news conference.

    This year’s proposal includes separate K-12 and higher education bills. Hassan and Rep. Heather Keeler, DFL-Moorhead introduced the House bills. Sens. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville; Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood; Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids; and Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, introduced the Senate bill.

    Research shows learning from teachers of color is linked to a number of benefits for students of color, from higher overall academic achievement to improved graduation rates. Experts cite increased teacher diversity as a key component of closing the achievement gap. 

    Yahanna Mackbee, a junior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, said she’s had two teachers of color during her educational career. The lack of teachers who look like her, curriculum that centers white history and bias from teachers and students make her feel like she doesn’t belong at school, she said.

    “I know that passing this bill will not only begin systemic change, but also internal emotional change within students. I know that if the 7-year-old me would’ve had a teacher of color to look up to, maybe she would’ve looked in the mirror and seen a future educator,” Mackbee said.

    The K-12 bill would put $46 million over the next two years toward expanding state grants for programs that recruit and train high school students and prospective teachers; changing licensure rules; updating state policies to make school climates more inclusive; and establishing goals for increasing the percentage of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers, among other provisions. The total budget for early childhood through 12th grade education is expected to be about $20.5 billion.

    The higher education proposal calls for $35 million to create scholarships for aspiring teachers of color, expand grants for student teachers and adjust the state’s teacher loan forgiveness program.

    “The bill does cost some money,” Abeler said. “But I think that given what could come out of it is helping every student of color to succeed, it’s worth it.”

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.