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Omnibus policy bill goes forward

Published (3/18/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Minnesota’s round two attempt at a successful Race to the Top application for federal grant money could be strengthened with approval of an omnibus education policy bill March 11. It would expand alternative teacher licensure and strengthen teacher preparation.

Sponsored by Committee Chairman Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), HF3163 was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House K-12 Eucation Finance Division March 18.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Marsha Swails (DFL-Woodbury) would allow the Board of Teaching to expand its approval of certain alternative teacher licensure programs. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree who pass required teacher licensure exams in skills, content and pedagogy, and are supervised and mentored, could get a limited two-year license, and could teach in the classroom as the teacher of record.

Board Director Karen Balmer said the proposal would offer the board flexibility to approve innovative programs for non-traditional candidates, such as mid-career changers, while holding them to the same ongoing competence and accountability standards as those in traditional licensure programs.

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) said the proposal lacks a fixed number of training hours and doesn’t limit teachers to teach only in their subject specialty. “We are taking a chance of damaging our children’s future by allowing people who don’t have the degree to teach.”

However, Minnesota’s teacher licensure laws may have been a weak spot in its unsuccessful Race to the Top federal grant application, according to Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), who supported the amendment. “We need the Race to the Top money,” said Greiling, who chairs the House K-12 Education Finance Division, where the bill goes next.

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) successfully offered an amendment that would require teacher candidates to pass basic skills tests in reading, writing and math. Under current law, they can be licensed for up to three years without having passed such tests if they take remedial courses.

“I’m absolutely astounded, and had to double-check that several times … that right now we allow someone who has not passed the basic skills tests not only to enter a teacher preparation program in college but be allowed to teach,” Loon said.

An amendment offered by Rep. Connie Doepke (R-Orono) that would update English language proficiency standards, was adopted.

A companion, SF3045, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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