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Educator licensing system changes included in omnibus E-12 policy bill

House Education Policy Committee Chair Cheryl Youakim makes opening comments as the committee begins a walk-through of the omnibus education policy bill March 11. Photo by Paul Battaglia

While the omnibus E-12 education policy bill contains dozens of provisions, changes to the teacher licensure system took center stage during the House Education Policy Committee hearing Monday.

Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), the committee chair who sponsors HF1711, said her goal is to ensure “schools have the tools to meet our students’ needs. … I also wanted to find balance.”

The bill was amended Monday and tabled. Additional testimony is scheduled Tuesday, with amendments expected to be offered Wednesday and action taken on the bill Thursday.

Much of Monday’s testimony and member questions concentrated on proposed changes to the teacher licensure system.

Originating from HF1329, sponsored by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), the changes would limit the renewal of tier 1 and 2 licenses, aiming to encourage educators to obtain more advanced licenses. It would also require teachers to engage in educator preparation and mentoring programs.

“There is a place for tier 1 and 2 licenses in Minnesota’s education system, but they should be a starting point in educators’ careers. Not the end point,” said David Aron, general counsel at Education Minnesota.

Aron, who pursued a nontraditional teacher licensure pathway, said the proposed changes wouldn’t prohibit a path like the one he took, but would close “a major loophole” in current law that would have allowed him to receive a renewable license without completing any formal training program.

“Completing teacher preparation did more than anything else to mitigate the isolation and self-doubt that can be so crippling and overwhelming for new teachers,” he said. “It also made me a more effective teacher.”

Opponents say modifying the newly reformed licensing system is premature, would exacerbate the state’s teacher shortage and create uncertainty for current tier 1 and 2 educators.  

“We do believe that the current language as written will impact schools’ and districts’ ability to recruit educators,” said Daniel Sellers, executive director of EdAllies.

The bill would prohibit a student from receiving ongoing instruction from a tier 1 or 2 teacher. Sellers says this puts districts in a difficult position, as many lower tiered educators often teach technical, vocational or specialized courses, and it’s not unusual for a student to have them as a teacher more than one consecutive year.

“We’re also stripping school districts of some of the flexibility and local control that they have,” he said.

Other notable provisions within the bill would:

  • allow districts to begin the school year before Labor Day in 2020 and 2021;
  • modify high school graduation requirements by reducing elective credits. In turn, students would be required to take a half credit of personal finance and take a government and citizenship course during grade 11 or 12 for credit;
  • require school districts to screen for dyslexia in all students identified as not reading at grade level by the end of kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2. It would also require dyslexia screening of students in grade 3 or higher who demonstrate reading difficulty, unless a different reason for reading difficulty has been identified;
  • require the use of non-exclusionary disciplinary policies and practices before suspending or expelling a student unless it appears the student will create an immediate and substantial danger to self, others or property;
  • outline student journalist rights to freedom of the press in school-sponsored media;
  • promote increasing the percentage of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in the state;
  • modify special education program requirements, geared toward reducing paperwork;
  • require the Department of Education to adopt a comprehensive sexual education model. School districts must either adopt the model or adopt their own model and submit it to the department;
  • allow students to have and use sunscreen in school without a prescription or note from a health professional;
  • require districts to test for radon every five years in every building with students; and
  • require schools that participate in the national school lunch program to adopt and post a meal policy, and provide meals in a respectful manner.

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus E-12 education policy bill:

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