During a press conference on Monday, Sen. Chuck Wiger said addressing Minnesota’s teacher shortage crisis would be the “No. 1 priority” for Senate DFLers.
On Tuesday, Sen. Wiger and his colleagues — from both parties — in the Senate Education Committee took the first step on making good on that promise as the committee unanimously approved the MSBA-initiated Teacher Shortage Act.
“This is a very strong bill,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff.
Authored by Sen. Kevin Dahle, the bill aims to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage problem through several initiatives, including:
- A statewide teacher job board — One Minnesota job posting board for teacher candidates to find positions and districts to recruit.
- Grants to student teachers — Grant programs for teacher candidates who are student-teaching and can demonstrate financial hardship and who are willing to work in shortage areas.
- Teacher loan forgiveness — Expand the current loan forgiveness program for teachers teaching in a licensure field and economic development region with an identified shortage.
- Teacher Development and Evaluation (TDE) — Expand TDE dollars statewide to provide equitable access to professional development across Minnesota.
- Broaden scope of science licensure — Add general science for grades 5-8 to the list of licenses that can be added by exam to a current Minnesota 9-12 science license after three years of experience.
- “Grow Your Own” or locally designed pathway to licensure — Establish a licensure pathway (similar to Minneapolis and St. Paul’s) for paraprofessionals to become licensed teachers.
- Special education educator programs report — Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to supply a report on MnSCU’s special education educator programs and five-year graduation statistics.
See https://www.mnmsba.org/Portals/0/PDFs/TeacherShortageActInfographic.pdf for MSBA’s Teacher Shortage Act infographic
Visit https://www.mnmsba.org/Portals/0/PDFs/TeacherShortageActAnalysis.pdf for MSBA’s analysis of the Teacher Shortage Act.
“This bill is a long-term and short-term approach,” Sen. Dahle said, himself a former teacher.
MSBA’s Associate Director of Government Relations Denise Dittrich testified before the committee. “We are not generating and retaining enough teachers, especially teachers from diverse backgrounds,” Dittrich said. “The number of new teacher licenses awarded has declined by 7 percent in the last five years. What we have been doing in the past has not worked. We need to pass the Teacher Shortage Act.”
Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) Executive Director Gary Amoroso also testified, calling this a “critical point for this conversation.”
“This is not a regional issue,” Amoroso said. “This is going from a crisis to an epidemic. If we don’t have a high-quality, trained workforce for our children, we are going to have issues in this state.”
Amoroso said 10 to 15 years ago school districts would get hundreds of applicants for jobs. But nowadays, some schools are only getting three or four applicants for job openings. “That does not serve kids well,” Amoroso added.
Three Minnesota school superintendents also provided testimony — Osseo Area’s Kate Maguire, Faribault’s Todd Sesker and Crosby-Ironton’s Jamie Skjeveland.
Maguire told the committee that there needed to be legislative intervention to help attract more teachers.
“There is a need for a more racially workforce is critical to help students of color,” Maguire said. Osseo Area is the fifth largest school district in the state — and serves the third-highest number of students of color in Minnesota.
Sesker told the committee that the number of elementary education majors have dropped over the past three years at Winona State University, Minnesota State University (Mankato), and the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Sesker said he and other superintendents from his area are having trouble finding special education licensed teachers and that there are a limited number of early childhood teachers and career and tech education teachers available.
“The teacher shortage is real,” Sesker said, adding that shortages in math instructors forced his district to coax two former math teachers out of retirement to fill in.
Skjeveland, a superintendent of 16 years, could also remember a time when he’d get a couple hundred applicants for vacancies — but now they just get a couple of applicants. “We ask you to support the Teacher Shortage Act,” he said.
Troy Haugen, the Lakes Country Service Cooperative’s Career & Technical Education Coordinator, said “this issue keeps me up at night.” As a father of four children of his own, he added: “I don’t know who is going to be in front of them as teachers.”
Following approval of the Teacher Shortage Act, the committee discussed nine other bills. All nine could dovetail quite nicely into MSBA’s Teacher Shortage Act, having content in: (1) “Grow Your Own” type programs, (2) grants, loan forgiveness and tax benefits, and (3) teacher recruitment and retention.
There were 35 testifiers in today’s hearing — all singing from the same song sheet. As with any concert, there are some parts in unison and some in harmony. The good news for Minnesota’s public school systems is Chair Wiger and the Senate Education Committee has stated this is their No. 1 priority. That should be music to all our ears.