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Multiple bills seek to address teacher shortages, diversity issues

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Increasing teacher recruitment and retention, especially for teachers of color, has been a priority for many lawmakers this session, as educators and advocates from across the state have testified to shortages of qualified teachers. Multiple measures seeking to address teacher shortages recently came in front of the House Education Finance Committee.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) seeks to combine several proposals aimed at recruiting, training and retaining teachers in HF3132, the Teacher Shortage Act, which the committee laid over last Thursday.

The bill would fund grants and loan forgiveness programs for teachers, provide grants to districts to create teacher licensing programs for current paraprofessionals, fund teacher and principal development and create a statewide electronic job board for educators. A companion, SF2513, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Denise Dittrich, associate director of government relations of the Minnesota School Boards Association, called the bill a statewide solution to one of the highest priority issues for school boards across the state. “The bottom line is that we in Minnesota are not generating and retaining enough teachers, especially those of diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Some potential teachers are “right under our noses in the schools,” said Rep. Kelly Fenton (R-Woodbury), who sponsors HF2805 to create a “Grow Your Own” teacher residency pilot program to provide scholarships for non-licensed school district employees to pursue teacher licensure.

The committee approved the bill Thursday, sending it to the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. A companion, SF2516, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Fenton also sponsors HF3340 to increase funding for the Collaborative Urban Education program to support alternative or nonconventional teacher training programs that prioritize teacher candidates of color. The committee laid the bill over Thursday for possible omnibus inclusion.  A companion, SF3003, sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) sponsors HF3427, which would provide Southwest Minnesota State University $385,000 in one-time funding to establish an online teacher training program for special education paraprofessionals working toward licensure. The committee laid the bill over March 30. A companion, SF2370, sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

“There’s a huge shortage of special ed. teachers in particular, and especially in Greater Minnesota,” Swedzinski said.

Most paraprofessionals in rural areas can’t afford to quit their jobs to travel to school, said Southwest Minnesota State University Professor of Education Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter, but they have an ideal background for teaching since they are already working in schools.

“They know what they’re getting into,” she said. 

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