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Grants, scholarships proposed to prepare underrepresented student teachers of color

Two higher education programs were created by the Legislature in 2021 to increase the diversity of Minnesota’s teacher workforce.

Before the subsequent school year is complete more money is being sought.

Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead), sponsors HF3917 that would provide an additional $8.5 million in fiscal year 2023 for the aspiring teachers of color scholarship pilot program. Its current appropriation is $1.5 million.

The bill would also appropriate an additional $1.5 million to underrepresented student teacher grant program in fiscal year 2023 and increase its base amount moving forward to $2.625 million from $1.125 million

It was laid over Tuesday by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF3714, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Supporters say Minnesota can help overcome the lack of racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity in its teaching force by providing grants and scholarships to underrepresented student teachers of color, and open doors to higher education for minorities putting them on a pathway to success in life.

Often student teachers of color face barriers, including financial ones that need removing, Keeler said. Grants and scholarships would support hundreds of Black, Indigenous, and people of color teacher candidates already in preparation pathways to finish their licensure programs and become teachers.

Paul Spies, co-founder of the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota, said 38% of Minnesota students are students of color, but only 7% of teachers.

The state’s acute achievement gap is related to the severe shortage of those teachers, he said.

The problem often is to attract, prepare and retain teachers from underrepresented communities, and it becomes an issue for providing equitable education, he said.

“If students today had equitable access to Black, Indigenous, people of color teachers, there would be approximately 22,000 Black, Indigenous, people of color teachers,” he said. “There are 3,000 Black, Indigenous, people of color teachers.”

Student teachers can sometimes become anxious when they deal with program costs and debts, said Laura Mogelson, legislative liaison for the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

“Black students face significant more debt,” Mogelson said, adding that many drop out of the teachers’ program because they’re worried about missed income during student teaching. Financial support would help fix the systematic shortages, she said.

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