Jose Perez, a freshman at St. Paul College, testified during a House Education Finance Committee hearing about teacher licensure on March 16, 2021.
Legislators in the House Education Finance Committee heard debate Tuesday over a teacher licensing bill that supporters say is necessary to ensure the state has a high-quality teaching corps, and opponents argue will push hundreds of teachers out of the classroom.
Part of the bill — introduced by Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope — would change Minnesota’s teacher licensing requirements, potentially requiring more educators to complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. Critics of the bill say it would create barriers for current and prospective teachers and disproportionately affect teachers of color.
There are four tiers of teacher licensure in Minnesota, based on educators’ academic backgrounds and professional experience. Tier 1 and 2 licenses can be renewed up to three times; Tiers 3 and 4 — considered professional licenses — have unlimited renewals.
The bill would require Tier 2 teachers to be enrolled in a teacher preparation program — which include traditional college programs and alternative programs from other providers — or have a master’s in the subject they teach.
It would eliminate other options included in current law that allow teachers to receive a Tier 2 license after completing two of the following: upper division credits in the subject area, method training, two years of teaching, certain exams or a teacher preparation program.
The bill would also remove a provision allowing teachers to get a Tier 3 license if they have three years of Tier 2 teaching experience and positive evaluations from supervisors. Teachers could still receive a Tier 3 license through a few routes, including completing a teacher prep program or submitting a portfolio application.
If the Legislature doesn’t pass the proposed Tier 2 changes, Minnesota will continue to allow “an individual with no training to become a professional teacher” with a Tier 3 or 4 license, said Alex Liuzzi, director of Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, told legislators.
Teacher preparation programs cover 125 professional standards, from the science of reading to working with students who speak languages other than English, Liuzzi said. Under current law, teachers who progress to the upper tiers of licensure may not be trained in these skills, he said.
Josh Crosson, director of the nonprofit EdAllies, told legislators that the bill would strip some Tier 2 teachers of their licenses or require them to submit a portfolio application to continue working, if they haven’t completed a teacher prep program. It would hinder the state’s efforts to diversify its overwhelmingly white teacher workforce, he said, since about 20% of Tier 2 teachers are people of color.
Frazier said he was “baffled” by some of the opposition to the bill. If the concern is about recruiting and retaining teachers of color, the focus should be on those efforts and not “phantom arguments,” he said.
“This bill is not set out to harm specifically teachers of color,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of teachers that taught me in K-12 looked like me, understood my experiences, and I am better for it … I want to make sure every student in Minnesota has that same opportunity.”
Jose Perez, a freshman at St. Paul College, told legislators that he struggled in school and never had teachers of color. Perez said he was on track to drop out until he transferred to High School for Recording Arts, where Miss Haben, a Black math teacher with a Tier 2 license, inspired him to stay in school.
“When I think about this bill, I think about the hundreds of Miss Habens that affect (students’) lives,” he said. “And even if this isn’t taking them out of their teaching position, if this is making it harder on them and not recognizing their hard work, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
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