by Christopher Magan in the Pioneer Press, Grand Forks Herald, Daily Globe, InForum, Prairie Business Magazine on Saturday, January 9, 2016
The Minnesota Board of Teaching is moving ahead with an overhaul of the state’s system for licensing educators from out of state in the wake of a missed legislative deadline and a bruising court ruling.
Board of Teaching members met Friday to review a draft of licensing rule changes the Legislature wanted in place by Jan. 1. The new rules are unlikely to be finished before spring.
Lawmakers ordered the changes in 2015 to address growing criticism that Minnesota makes it too difficult for qualified educators from out of state or those trained in alternative ways to earn a teaching license.
Erin Doan, executive director of the Board of Teaching, said the changes the board is considering will address many of those concerns. She has said since summer that the public input and hearings required to change licensing rules would make it tough to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
“The administrative rule-making process is not a quick process,” Doan said. “We are not dragging our feet, we are moving as fast as we can.”
After years of lobbying state officials and lawmakers, education advocates are happy that changes are on the horizon. Many districts face teacher shortages, and school leaders hope streamlining the licensing process will result in more qualified candidates for tough-to-fill jobs.
“It feels like we are behind the curve on this. I think they have made some positive steps,” said Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association.
However, critics of the state’s licensing system say there is much more work to be done.
Schneidawind’s group plans to ask the Legislature to further streamline the licensing process. He said the state’s robust teacher-evaluation system and other oversight should allow the Board of Teaching to remove some onerous hurdles to the classroom.
“We are hearing clearly from our members that we have to find a better way to streamline the process,” Schneidawind said. “We are not trying to say we are going to take anyone off the street to teach.”
‘NOT FOLLOWING THE LAWS’
Daniel Sellers, executive director of the the education reform group MinnCAN, disagrees that new laws are needed to improve Minnesota’s licensing system. Sellers doesn’t believe the Board of Teaching is complying with the rules already on the books, and he said the proposed rule changes will address only some of what was mandated by the Legislature.
“The laws are good,” Sellers said. “The board is simply not following the laws.”
MinnCAN has been a leading critic of the Board of Teaching and its decisions to deny licenses to teachers, many of whom are from outside Minnesota or were trained in alternative ways. A group of 20 of those educators filed a lawsuit in April against the board for what they claim is an overly complex licensing system with unclear standards.
Those educators won a victory Dec. 31 when a judge ruled the Board of Teaching should not have stopped accepting license applications through a portfolio system that allows candidates to show their qualifications through past work experience and training.
However, Doan of the Board of Teaching said limited staff and resources means portfolio license applications will likely be accepted only during a few “windows” throughout the year.
Doan has acknowledged that Minnesota’s licensing system needs improvements, but she has defended the board’s decisions and says they were within the law. She noted that the state Department of Education also plays an important role in educator licensing.
In Minnesota, the Board of Teaching is responsible for setting license standards, but the state Department of Education makes initial decisions about license applications. The Board of Teaching works with candidates whose applications were rejected to help them meet the state’s qualifications.
Many rejected applicants have complained that the board simply sent them to local colleges and universities with teacher training programs. Those institutions often told candidates they had to take classes costing thousands of dollars to qualify for a permanent teaching license.
Both Doan and critics of the licensing system hope an inquiry by the state legislative auditor, due later this winter, will bring additional clarity to the way Minnesota licenses educators.
Sellers says that despite the pending rule change and other updates, the lawsuit against the Board of Teaching will continue. “The laws are good. The administrative body is not implementing them well, so the courts are where we work that out,” he said.