Listen to English language learners in the education bill

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Minnesota has the worst disparities in educational outcomes between students of color and white students.

For years, lawmakers have lamented that they lack the votes and funds to make real changes to our education system. This year they have a trifecta and money – a surplus of $17.5 billion.

However, the failure of the Minnesota legislature to adequately incorporate and fund some of the proposals into the inclusive education bill makes English Language Learners (ELL), the state’s fastest-growing student group, almost invisible.

Currently, three proposals before the legislature could have a profound impact on academic outcomes for learners of English: 1) incorporating accountability into ELL funding formulas; 2) increase teacher diversity through the Increase Teachers of Color Act, and 3) maintain teacher licensing pathways that have proven effective in hiring teachers of color and teachers from low-income backgrounds.

Our organizations represent a diverse coalition of parents, educators, educators, and businesses that strongly support these three propositions.

First, we partnered with lawmakers to add accountability measures to the Learning English for Academic Competence and Success (LEAPS) Act. However, the LEAPS Act, which was passed by the legislature several years ago, has not received the necessary funding to implement it. The LEAPS Act will promote the professional development of teachers and administrators, recognize the diversity of multilingual learners, and engage the voices of parents, students, and the community in the design and implementation of ELL programs.

Unfortunately, these measures are not included in the inclusive education bill. Funding is critical, but best practices and accountability are central to changing education outcomes. More funding without accountability will maintain the status quo and widen existing gaps.

Second, we know that all students benefit from color teachers in the classroom. However, our teacher workforce has not kept pace with the growing diversity of our students. The contrast is amazing. In Minnesota, there is one white teacher for every nine white students, but there is one BIPOC teacher for every 90 BIPOC students.

Despite this, the legislature underfunds critical programs within the Increase Teachers of Color Act. The Senate, for example, has proposed no new funding for the Underrepresented Student Teachers Scholarship Program, while neither the House nor the Senate has proposed new funding for the ambitious Minnesota Scholarship Program for teachers of color. Both programs will offer grants and scholarships to teachers of color to enter the profession.

If we can’t fully fund the Increase in Teachers of Color Act now — with the historic surplus and supportive leadership trio in the House, Senate, and governor’s office — it’s hard to imagine when we’ll be able to do it.

Third, amid a widespread teacher shortage, Minnesota is rushing to reverse hard-won progress in its teacher licensing system, affecting nearly 800 teachers, a disproportionate number of whom are teachers of color.

Provisions in the sweeping bill would clear the path to permanent licensing for teachers who have demonstrated success as Level 2 Licensed Teachers (defined as three years of experience and a positive summative assessment) – thus having a master’s degree in a content area, completing a teacher preparation program or being registered Currently in a preparation program is the only way to stay in the profession regardless of school need or teacher influence.

Students, parents, teachers and principals do not ask for it. The Minnesota School Boards Association has voiced opposition to this bill, as have 16 other education advocacy organizations. This bill moves teacher diversity, teacher hiring, and teacher shortages in the wrong direction.

Our children depend on our legislators to make decisions that advance equality and improve our education system. Now is the time to support full funding of the Color Teachers Increase Act, maintain and improve existing tiered licensing pathways and bring more accountability to English language learner funding as outlined in the LEAPS Act. There are no more excuses.

Katja Zepeda is Director of Legislation and Policy – Education for the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs. Irma Marquez-Trapiro is the Executive Director of LatinoLEAD. Paula Cole is Executive Director of Educators for Excellence – Minnesota.