Bill to help with teacher shortage

FAIRMONT — A bill was recently passed in the Minnesota Senate that will make significant changes to the teacher licensure system. In addition to establishing four teacher licensure Tiers, the bill restructures the duties of the state Board of Teaching and creates a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board,(PELSB) which will be comprised of 11 individuals that the Governor names but that the Senate approves of.

The need to reform the bill was high as Minnesota has been facing a severe teacher shortage for some time. Fairmont Area School district superintendent, Joseph Brown Sr., said that 10 years ago, Fairmont would receive over 100 applications for an elementary opening. Two years ago, there were 3 openings and they only received 5 applications and hired 3 of the 5. Last year there was an opening for a 5th grade teacher and they received no applications.

Brown accredits the shortage to several different things. First of all, the recession of 2008 hit hard and not as many people went off to college. And then the cost of going to school is an issue, along with how much a teacher earns can stop a lot of people from pursuing a career in teaching. Finally, education receives a lot of public criticism. All of these factors combined over the past few years have contributed to the shortage.

“Education is more challenging today than ever before and the pressure that teachers face is tremendous,” Brown admitted.

The goal of the new bill is to encourage more people to go into teaching. The previous bill made it difficult for many to get their license and very difficult to teach in Minnesota when coming from a different state–even with adequate experience. Now teachers won’t need to take as many tests to get licensed and coming from a different state won’t be such a struggle.

One of the biggest benefits of the reformed bill is Tier 1. Someone can be a Tier one instructor if they have a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, a professional certification or five years relevant work experience. If this person passes a background check, has the necessary skills and knowledge, and there was no other candidate with a Tier 2,3 or 4 license, they will be eligible to instruct a class.

Brown said that the Tier 1 option will be excellent when it comes to finding an instructor to teach vocational classes, especially since there is a big need for skilled workers so students will benefit from what they learn.

“If we want to add an electrical class or construction class, we can inquire at DeWar or Tech Builders and find someone with several years of experience and they can teach. It really adds a lot more options,” Brown said.

While the Tier 1 option makes it easier for some people to teach, it is also why some people were opposed to the new bill. Anyone that qualifies for Tier 1 can instruct a class, however they are not included within the statutory definition of a teacher. Education Minnesota did not fully support the bill because with the Tier 1 option, they will lose union membership.

Tiers 2 and 3 make it more accessible to a wide range of candidates, including those who are currently working toward their completion of a teacher-prep program. Tier 4 is the highest class, requiring the most experience.

All in all, many are pleased with the reformed bill. It had formerly been vetoed by Governor Dayton in May of this year, but after some reassessments and tweaking, it was passed and is expected to help beat Minnesota’s teacher shortage.

“This is a good bill. It will be good for both our students and our teachers as it will give them more options,” said Brown.