Minnesotan legislators are getting ready to make some big decisions about education in the state. While specific needs will vary by region, it’s interesting to note that the issues Minnesota is currently dealing with are pretty common across the U.S. as we head into 2017:
Based on a report from the legislative auditor last March, Minnesota’s teacher licensing system has been declared “confusing” and “broken.” The trouble has led to a severe shortage of teachers in the state, exacerbated by the fact that licensure is split between the Minnesota Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education. That means it’s unclear who’s responsible for what when it comes to final decisions.
In addition, the report found that the Education Department doesn’t do enough to explain its reasons when it denies license applications.
“Many of the things that have been identified [in the report] are things that we’ve identified in…the past couple of years,” said Erin Doan, the teaching board’s executive director. “So we’re encouraged at this point that the opportunity for those conversations is in front of us right now.”
The legislature is considering a solution involving a tiered system with minimal requirements for an initial license, followed by additional levels of licensure as teachers gain experience and further training.
“We can offer them an initial license based on their experience, get them in the classroom, get them teaching, and let the school district assess them,” explained Senate Education Policy Committee Chair Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake. “If they’re not working, the local school district can always fire them. They’re on probation.”
The hope is that further practical experience, as well as support provided on the job, will encourage Minnesota teachers to continually improve and gain more autonomy as their careers progress.
Minnesota’s new Republican Senate majority and Republican-controlled House are likely to move toward more tax credits to provide student with private school options such as charter schools. Low test sores and achievement gaps have Minnesotan legislators looking for ways to offer additional educational options, and charter schools in particular are very hot right now, both in the state and around the country.
However, critics are concerned that tax credits on this issue are just a way to divert public funds. With limited overall funds, the debate continues on how to use those funds to provide the best opportunities for students.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is particularly proud of the work he’s accomplished so far in helping school districts offer free preschool. House Education Finance Chair Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, suggests now is the time to check in on those investments. “We’re going to want to see how those children are doing,” Loon said. “Do we know that they’ll be ready for kindergarten? What kind of measurements are in place? How are they doing compared to children who may be on a scholarship?”
It’s also possible that lawmakers will want to discuss another potential state program that would give scholarships to low-income students to use at either public or private schools.
No matter which areas the Minnesota legislature decides to focus on, like the United States at large, they will have to make some tough choices about how to allocate a tight, two-year budget. As it stands now, they will only have $17 billion, about 41 percent of the state’s total budget, to put toward education.