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New teaching licensure system already facing changes

Members of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee listen March 8 as staff from the Department of Education discuss HF3315 which contains a number of education policy changes. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Minnesota teacher licensure system underwent an overhaul last session and it turns out there still may be a few bugs to be worked out.

Removing a provision in the Tier 3 option of the licensing system was one of several revisions that the Department of Education presented to the House Education Innovation Policy Thursday when it began consideration of HF3315.

The bill, which was amended and laid over, is sponsored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton). She said it could become a vehicle for the omnibus education policy package. The companion, SF3086, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.

Tier 3 teaching licensure debated

Last session, legislators passed a new teacher licensing systems geared towards streamlining a complicated licensing process that was seen as a deterrent to potential Minnesota educators.

During a conference committee, a provisional change was made to the Tier 3 license that didn’t sit well with some. This change allowed teachers with three years of experience under Tier 2 – a less stringent license — to become eligible for Tier 3 licensure.

Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), an educator herself, felt the change would allow individuals to circumvent time-intensive and costly teacher preparation requirements.

"We spend a lot of money continuing to train ourselves and this person could come in and basically do none of that and become a teacher with none of the responsibility that the rest of us have gone through,” she said. “I’m just really confused and dumbfounded by this whole thing and I would absolutely strike it out. There’s no way I would support something like that.”

Sara Ford, a researcher for Education Minnesota who supports removal of the provision, said it creates a problematic loophole that will have profound impacts on students and student achievement.

“It’s not comparable to any of the other pathways because it does not require completion of, or even enrollment in, the teacher preparation program,” she said. Ford also noted that research shows a lack of teacher preparation results in negative outcomes for students and higher rates of teacher attrition.

Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, and an advocate of the provision, said that it’s important to look at the licensure system as a whole.

“I think it’s unfair to characterize someone who’s coming to this stage as just being someone off the streets, not having had any preparation,” Bartholomew said. “You’re just looking at Tier 3 here. I think that it’s important to look at the Tier 2 statutes as well, there are a lot of requirements there.”

Advocates for the provision want more time to see how it impacts the profession and students, with the hope that it will reduce Minnesota’s teacher shortage. However, Rep. Erin Maye Quade (DFL-Apple Valley) said she was uncomfortable with that idea.

“What happens if we collect that data and it shows that it’s not working well? Do those teachers that have become Tier 3 licensed teachers lose their licenses?” she said. “Gambling with our students isn’t always my favorite thing.”

Water quality language questioned

Among the other changes proposed by the bill, are provisions relating to water quality testing standards.

One would require school districts to complete lead testing in all of their buildings within the next two years, rather than five, as had been previously mandated. If a district did find the presence of lead in any potable water source, it would be required to remediate the water source, or shut it off and provide an alternative, such as bottled water.

Representing Minneapolis Public Schools, Josh Downham stressed that children’s safety and exposure to high levels of lead is an issue that they take very seriously. However, he had concerns about specific language that called for a zero-tolerance policy. To demonstrate his point he brought along a bottle of water, which by federal standards, can contain up to five-parts-per-billion of lead.

“This language would say that if we have the presence of one-part-per-billion in that drinking fountain we would have to replace it with one that has five-parts-per-billion,” Downham said.

Adosh Unni, the Education department’s director of government relations, said the department is still looking at the proposed language and intends to follow the guidelines set forth by the Department of Health, which considers reasonable lead count levels to be between two-and 20-parts-per-billion.  

Assistant Health Commissioner Paul Allwood said there is no safe level of lead ingestion. However, the department understands that a zero-tolerance lead policy is nearly impossible due to its ubiquity, even in modern building materials.   

“We’re not proposing that we would require zero tolerance for lead,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is provide practical options for school districts, including the ones that want to be more aggressive or more assertive in trying to mitigate their lead hazards based on their testing results.”

Other proposed revisions in the bill

Several technical changes were also proposed. These include clarifying state aid payments for special education by removing obsolete references and clarifying school meal debt collection requirements and procedures. 

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