The Minnesota Dimes put education union support ahead of equity and the need for educators

Goff Justice announces a $20 million expansion of nursing education programs

Leaders look at competing priorities and make difficult, sometimes wrong, decisions. Here is literally a textbook case.

In 2017, state lawmakers approved a new licensing system for school teachers, creating more paths in the profession beyond earning a Minnesota college education degree.

The system has four levels that are divided roughly like this: a community expert, a middle-aged professional transitioning into teaching, a newer teacher, and a master teacher educator. There are many entries into the first two levels and opportunities to move up to higher levels for better pay and benefits.

With Minnesota experiencing a faster employment decline than most states and the nation as a whole, this system came just in time for schools. Most teachers are still certified in the traditional way, but it has brought in more marginalized people, particularly in special education.

Minnesota Education, the state’s largest teachers’ union, opposed the system before and after its implementation. And now, with union-backed Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and governor’s office, bills are moving through the legislature to the kibosh.

This is bad on a macro level. Like I’ve said since I started as a columnist, Minnesotans need to make it easier for people to hire, not make it harder.

It also likely hurt efforts to diversify the teaching base, which remains one of the most imbalanced white professions in the state.

People of color now account for only 6% of all teachers in the state. But this is higher than 4% before the new system was created.

“This tiered system is revolutionary,” said Josh Krewson, executive director of EdAllies, a Minneapolis organization that represents student interests. “What the Legislature is really proposing is a return to the old system. How can we just have the system we always had? The system that left teachers of color permanently out of the profession?”

Deb Hinton, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said school districts want to stick with the new system. “They can point to really great teachers who have been able to get their teacher’s license in a different format than what people are used to,” she said.

Before 2017, people who decided mid-career to go into education had to take classes at a Minnesota college to get licensure. However, educational colleges and universities differed greatly in their requirements.

In 2016, a report by the Legislative Auditor concluded that licensing teachers in Minnesota was riddled with meaningless standards and urged lawmakers to reform the system. The result is the four levels.

A Minnesota Education spokesperson said the new system is unfair to teachers who are certified by taking college education courses. At the time he signed the bill, then-governor. Mark Dayton tried to side with the union by attempting to veto it. This eventually led to a lawsuit.

I bet a lot of Minnesota teachers are more open about this issue than their union, especially teachers who see job openings or who can’t take time off because there are no alternatives available.

But if the teachers really think this new system, after going through the courts and having some early success, is still unfair, I have no sympathy. We all experience change over the course of our careers. Thinking of going back to today is a waste of energy.

Union also refers to October note From the US Department of Education. A union spokesperson said the memo indicates that federal funding for private education will be jeopardized if teachers do not meet more stringent certification requirements.

I don’t read the note that way, but I may not be correct. However, if this pressure is coming from the federal level, Minnesotans should not accept it. The state’s demographic challenge is even more extreme than the nation’s, and our state leaders and members of Congress must fight back against regulators who don’t get it.

Education Minnesota is telling lawmakers not to allow teachers to advance from Level Two, the level created for people entering teaching later in life, to Level Three without taking courses from colleges or from the union itself.

The current system allows them to advance if they do well in teaching for three years. So far, Minnesota has had two years of those promotions, which amount to a few hundred of the state’s 58,000 full-time teachers, with no apparent problems.

At the House Committee meeting on March 29, principals, charter school principals, and teachers hired through alternative paths spoke in favor of allowing this progress to continue.

No one spoke in favor of the changes, but the House Committee approved the bill the next day anyway. We’ll see what the House and Senate leaders do in the coming weeks.

When EdAllies told Democrats that their vote would likely hurt potential teachers of color, Krewson said, lawmakers responded that they would create other programs to recruit them. The Star Tribune reported a few months ago that the state’s current program to recruit teachers of color, called Minnesota’s Come and Teach, had only six tutors in attendance last year.

“We know that graduated licensing brings teachers of color into the profession,” Krewson said. “But also, why can’t we do both? Why can’t we leave paths open for teachers of color and invest in new ideas? It shouldn’t be an either-or.”

Perhaps the equation — or the most important equation in Democrats’ minds is this: Either do what Education Minnesota says, or see its endorsements and campaign contributions go to someone else.