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Minnesota Legislature

Proposal would aim to increase percentage of teachers of color

Violeta Hernandez Espinosa, legislative and policy liaison for the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, testifies in the House Education Policy Committee on HF824, sponsored by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Minnesota’s students have become increasingly diverse over the past decade, with students of color growing from 24 percent to 34 percent of the overall student population, the House Education Policy Committee learned Wednesday.

The percentage of teachers of color, however, has not reflected that change, as they currently make up approximately 4 percent of all educators.

Sponsored by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), HF824 would bolster policies and programs geared toward increasing the number of teachers who are of color or American Indian.

“I just want to show my appreciation for the strong bipartisan support for this bill that builds on Republican efforts over the last couple of years,” Kunesh-Podein said. “This bill is a package of interconnected efforts to create system changes needed to finally start increasing the percentage of teachers of color in our state.”

The bill was approved by the committee and now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee. The companion, SF1012, awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls) is the sponsor.

Violeta Hernandez Espinosa, legislative policy liaison for the Council of Latino Affairs, was one of several people who testified in support of the proposal, highlighting the positive impacts teachers from different ethnicities have on students.

“Research is clear that all students benefit from diverse teachers,” she said.  “However, research is also clear on the higher-impact potential for students of color. We must be responsive to their needs.”

The bill includes more than a dozen provisions that would modify statutes, and create or expand grants and financial support services related to:    

  • establishing a state goal to increase the percentage of teachers of color by 2 points per year;
  • attracting and preparing teachers through the creation or expansion of various grant programs, preparation programs and enhanced recruitment campaigns; 
  • increasing teacher preparation and licensure completion through direct financial support; and
  • increasing retention through mentorships, promoting inclusive work environments, using more cultural inclusive curriculum and loan forgiveness programs.

Jim Bartholomew, executive policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, offered support for the proposal’s goal but took issue with a provision that would modify the tier-four licensure system. To receive this highest license, a candidate must be able to pass a board approved basic skills exam. The proposal would eliminate that requirement.

“Granting a tier-four license to someone who might not be able to pass a board approved basic skills exam undermines the credibility of this recognition,” he said.

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