ST. PAUL – Lawmakers began debating Tuesday proposed changes to how teachers are licensed and what administrators can consider when they staff classrooms.
State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is the chief sponsor of legislation she says will make it easier for qualified teachers to get a license and requires administrators to consider performance when making decisions on staffing and layoffs. State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, is chief sponsor of companion legislation in the Senate.
The changes have the support of Republicans, school administrators and education-reform advocates who say the current system keeps qualified teachers out of the classroom. The changes are a top priority for House Republicans.
DFLers, teacher licensing officials and state teachers union Education Minnesota oppose the bill, saying districts already have the tools they need to make sure the best teachers are in the classroom.
In opening testimony to the House Education Innovative Policy Committee Tuesday, the two sides gave contrasting views about the impact the proposed changes would have on Minnesota’s schools.
Loon’s bill would make it easier for teachers from other states to get licensed and give school administrators more freedom to hire “community experts” who otherwise would not have the proper credentials to become teachers.
Lawmakers have approved a number of changes over the past few years designed to make it easier for qualified applicants to get a teaching license. Supporters of Loon’s bill say those changes either are not working or don’t go far enough.
Daniel Sellers, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, or MinnCan, told lawmakers that Minnesota’s system for licensing teachers is so “arbitrary and capricious” that he advises prospective candidates from other states to hire a lawyer to navigate the process.
“It’s not the high standards that are turning candidates away,” Sellers said. “It’s the process itself.”
Opponents fear Loon’s proposed changes would result in unqualified people being licensed. They want all teachers held to the same high standards.
Members of the Minnesota Board of Teaching told lawmakers that last year nearly 40 percent of candidates who received teaching licenses came from out of state. That’s double the number who came from out of state in 2009.
“Anecdotal examples of problems are compelling, but the data tells the true story,” said Cindy Crist, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Loon’s bill would require school leaders to look at a teacher’s performance evaluations when making decisions about cutting staff. It would also prohibit students having a teacher rated as “ineffective” two years in a row.
Current law allows school districts to negotiate unique layoff procedures, but seniority plays a large role in most of those decisions. About 40 percent of districts include other criteria such as a teacher’s type of license or special skills.
Jess Anna Glover, an attorney for Education Minnesota, said Loon’s bill proposes to use teacher evaluations in a way they were not intended. Evaluations were designed to help teachers improve, not make them compete with co-workers for top scores, she said.
Using evaluations in a punitive way could lead to mistrust and legal challenges, Glover said. Districts already have the tools they need to fire bad teachers.
“There is nothing in House File Two that improves teaching and learning in Minnesota schools, which is tragic, given the challenges we face today,” Glover said.
But supporters argued that school leaders are at a disadvantage when trying to negotiate layoff policies that include criteria other than seniority.
Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said negotiating different rules is tough when the state’s default model is essentially based on seniority.
“Just because something is predictable, doesn’t mean it’s what is in the best interest of our children,” Amoroso said.
Lawmakers were able to ask a few questions about Loon’s bill Tuesday before debate was tabled until Thursday’s committee hearing.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.