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House passes overhaul of teacher licensure system

By Nick Longworth

In an effort to address the state’s teacher shortage and rectify a licensure system that some say has become overly confusing and complex, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) sponsors HF140 that would overhaul the process for those seeking to teach in Minnesota.

Passed 76-55, by the House Monday, the amended bill would consolidate the licensure authority under one Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, creating a new four-tier licensure system and conforming existing statutes.

The bill now heads to the Senate where Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) is the sponsor.

“This is a masterpiece of reorganization that was desperately needed. It’s a masterpiece of teamwork,” said Erickson, who also chairs the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. “It’s a piece of legislation for which the public should be able to say it has been truly vetted.”

House Photography file photo

The 11-member Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board - appointed by the governor - would transfer power from the Board of Teaching (which would dissolve) and the Department of Education. It would evaluate qualified candidates according to state verification requirements and report annually on teacher preparation programs and school performance.

All teacher candidates would be required to pass an examination of general teaching knowledge and licensure-specific skills, with each consecutive tier offering a specific license expiration and increased requirements. A “licensure-by-portfolio” process would allow candidates to submit portfolios demonstrating teaching and content competence.

Erickson said the bill has gone through an extensive vetting, noting the 35 amendments that have been offered through the legislative process.

“This is a piece of legislation that has had more thoughtful contributions from members than any I have seen in recent years,” Erickson said.

Past concerns have centered over the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board’s composition and turnover dates.

Current Board of Teaching members as of Jan. 1, 2017, would be terminated on Sept. 1, 2017, and barred from becoming eligible for appointment for four years. Some lawmakers would also like a seat for professionals such as social workers, psychologists and post-secondary administration.

“There’s been criticism of getting rid of the old board. There are members who have been very good and served faithfully,” she said.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, chair of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee, speaks on HF140, which in part would restructure Minnesota's teacher licensing system, during debate on the House Floor April 3. Photo by Paul Battaglia

An amendment successfully offered by Erickson on the House Floor requires the board to include one staff member of a board-approved teacher preparation program.

An amendment unsuccessfully offered through a roll-call vote by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) would require school administrators to hire teacher candidates from tier three or four, who are more qualified, before considering those in the previous two.

“The bill makes it too easy for administrators to recruit tier one and two without demonstrating that they have striven to place the most qualified individuals, those who fill the tier three and four requirements. Why not ask to make a good faith effort to recruit the higher qualified individuals a first?” he said. “It’s about having the highest qualified individual in every class across the state.”

“To almost insult [schools] and suggest they don’t have the knowledge and skills to ensure they have the best possible candidate in the room is a pathway which we don’t want to go down. We have faith in these entrusted officials. We want to trust our school boards,” Erickson said.

Legislators also expressed concern over the tier one licenses lowering current qualification standards for incoming teachers.

 

Confusion hindering careers

The teacher licensure system has been a mess for years, according to Erickson.

“I have been receiving several calls and emails for years about the frustrations that teacher candidates have had trying to figure out how to get licensed in Minnesota. When they read through the statute they couldn’t tell for which license to apply,” she said. “We can’t have this going on. We’re looking for teachers and we can’t even welcome them because there’s no system that seems to tell them what the process is.”

Since state statutes can be adjusted annually, decades of change have made them either outdated or ambiguous, leaving plenty of room for interpretation.

Excessive and duplicative agency responsibilities also bred a culture of unaccountability.

The new system provides those with questions with accurate and simple answers.

“Statutes shouldn’t be a guessing game. They should be written in such a way that any person can pick up the section and understand,” she said. “The way we placed the tiers without giving additional titles or labels is going to show what the structure is in black and white.”

 

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