‘Increase Teachers of Color Act’ clears House committee

    A bill that aims to help Minnesota schools hire and retain more teachers of color cleared a House committee Wednesday, though prospects of it becoming law remain unclear.

    For several years, advocates have pressed for legislation to increase diversity in Minnesota’s teacher workforce, which has remained overwhelmingly white even as children of color make up a growing share of the student population. About 5% of Minnesota teachers were people of color during the 2018-19 school year, compared to roughly 34% of students, according to state data.

    The bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-Columbia Heights, would expand state grants for programs that recruit and train high school students and prospective teachers from nontraditional backgrounds; require districts to implement inclusive curriculum; and create a state goal of increasing the share  of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers by two percentage points each year.

    The proposal was introduced last year but failed to gain traction in the state Senate, despite bipartisan support. Legislators allotted $1.5 million for a program aimed at retaining teachers of color — far less than the $80 million in funding advocates wanted. The bill currently has no Senate companion.

    During the hearing Wednesday, legislators heard testimony from educators and students, who described the ways learning from teachers of color benefits students of color.

    Several in the packed hearing room groaned when Jessica Davis, a teacher at South St. Paul Secondary School and Minnesota Teacher of the Year, said she’d never had a teacher who looked like her.

    “Since I did not see people who look like me while like me growing up and navigating school, teaching was not my first career choice,” she said. “I’m here today to endorse the Increase Teachers of Color Act to continue to promote the systemic change necessary to address the serious opportunity and achievement gap that students across our state experience.”

    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.