Thanks in large part to the work of three local Minnetonka lawmakers, becoming a licensed teacher is now more achievable for many professionals in Minnesota.
Earlier today, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law legislation allowing want-to-be teachers, for the first time in state history, to go outside the Minnesota college and university systems for a teaching license. The new routes include nonprofits and school districts, as long as the licensing program is approved by the state's Board of Teaching.
“Alternative licensure is a tool that we believe can attract well-educated, diverse and dedicated people who want to join the teaching ranks,” said Senate Education Chairwoman Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), sponsor of the Senate measure, SF 40.
Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), who has worked on getting such an initiative passed for several years, was co-sponsored of this year's measure.
“It was such an honor to be part of this legislative process, joined by so many community leaders advocating for an initiative that we believe will serve the best interests of Minnesota children,” Bonoff said. (See sidebar for video of Bonoff's remarks.)
Last session, the debate over alternative licensure pathways turned nasty and ended up null, but because of language crafted in a House-Senate conference committee early last week, the legislation was approved on March 3 with bi-partisan support. SF 40 passed the Senate on a 46-19 vote. Hours later, HF 63 passed in the House, 80-51.
Rep. Connie Doepke (R-Lake Minnetonka) was a co-sponsor of House version, HF 63. Although, Rep. Benson (DFL-Minnetonka), a former teacher himself, had initially supported a different version of the legislation than the one which was passed last Thursday, he ultimately voted in favor of the bill. Benson had advocated that implementation of an alternative teacher licensing pathway should also require performance-based assessments for teachers in the first year after they obtain a teaching license.
“Districts that are struggling to recruit and retain strong and qualified teachers could certainly benefit from having an alternative teacher licensure program in place, but it isn’t worth it if we don’t ensure that these new teachers are qualified to teach their subjects,” Benson wrote in a “Letter to the Editor” to Minnetonka Patch last month.
In total, Minnetonka's six state lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of creating an alternative teacher licensure pathway: Sens. Bonoff (DFL-43), Olson (R-33) and David Hann (R-42), along with Reps. Doepke (R-33B), Benson (DFL-43B), and Kirk Stensrud (R-42A),
In a letter sent to the Senate and House sponsors of this legislation before its passage, Dayton pledged his intent to sign it into law despite some reservations.
“I do not agree with every provision in the legislation [but] accept those differences in order to accomplish our shared objective: to pass reforms that will close the achievement gap and raise the educational standard for all Minnesota school children,” the letter read.
But on Monday morning, Dayton signed the bill at a Capitol ceremony. He was joined by Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius as well as Sens. Olson and Bonoff.
“Education Minnesota believes there is value in alternative pathways into teaching but not when it lowers the standards of the profession,” the statement read. "The key to better teaching does not lie in making it easier to become a teacher.”
Olson couldn’t disagree more.
“People with provisional licenses after completing an alternative teaching preparation program are already teaching in some of our schools with the most challenging achievement gaps,” she said. “They have proven their worth.”