Bill targets diversity of teachers

A group of state legislators is backing a bill that would create alternative licensing pathways.

by Logan Wroge

State lawmakers are looking to address a lack of diversity among Minnesota teachers.

Recently introduced legislation would establish a grant program for organizations that aim to diversify the teaching population through alternative licensing pathways. It could also strengthen the University of Minnesota’s partnership with Teach for America.

In the 2013-2014 school year, about 94 percent of newly licensed teachers in Minnesota were white, according to the state Department of Education.

“If you look at the growing diversity of our population, the teacher pool diversity is nowhere near the same,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.

Bonoff, who co-authored the bill, said Teach for America or other alternative teacher preparation organizations could apply for grants. The legislation would appropriate $2 million over the next biennium.

She authored a similar bill in 2013 that would have provided $1.5 million to Teach for America.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill and said in a letter to legislators that he’d prefer to create a competitive grant program rather than direct appropriation to a specific organization.

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, an author of the Senate’s bill, said state lawmakers took the governor’s advice while drafting the legislation this session.

“The Legislature’s already expressed the will to pass it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of convincing the governor, so we’re hopeful.”

Last summer, 36 TFA members began a first-of-its-kind alternative teacher preparation program in conjunction with the University, said Deborah Dillon, the associate dean for graduate and professional programs at the College of Education and Human Development.

The participants gained experience in an eight-week program as they co-taught with seasoned teachers. After the program ended, they began teaching alone with provisional licenses while completing two years of additional coursework at the University, Dillon said.

After meeting all of the qualifications and assessments, the University will recommend the program’s participants to the state’s Board of Teaching for full licensure, she said.

“The University of Minnesota certainly would be partnering with TFA to seek this funding,” Dillon said. “It would allow us to, you know, help defray the cost of the program.”

Dillon said the board will decide in April or May if the partnership between the University and Teach for America will continue.

“We’re feeling very good about what’s happening, and we fully expect that we should be able to achieve our full status so that we will move from a conditional acceptance with the Board of Teaching to a fully accepted program after this spring,” she said.

Anil Hurkadli, executive director of TFA’s Twin Cities branch, said in an email his organization would apply for grant funding if the bill becomes law.

“We think alternative teacher preparation programs, such as ours, are one important way to increase teacher diversity,” Hurkadli wrote.