March 14, 2023

The Battle to Defend Tiered Licensure Continues at the Legislature

On March 2, 23 people showed up at the Senate Education Policy Committee meeting to testify against HF1224/SF1477, a bill that if passed, would end the largest pathway for teachers of color to enter the classroom in Minnesota.

Thanks to their powerful testimonies (testifiers included E4E-MN members and staff, teachers, students, parents, community members, and coalition partners), the committee voted to lay over (or postpone a vote on the bill).

After reading Educators for Excellence-Minnesota’s open letter signed by E4E-MN members and hearing testimony opposed to the bill, Sen. Jim Abeler (35, R) remarked, “I’ve been here 24 years. I’ve never seen this kind of demonstration from the community, eloquent, clear, and focused. I’ve never seen a letter with that many people writing. I am overwhelmingly amazed at the power of the people who have come out and who have spoken.”

The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) is pushing to eliminate six of the nine pathways that would allow Tier 2 and Tier 3 teachers to earn licensure. Eliminating these pathways would close the doors on teacher hopefuls, especially teachers of color who use these pathways.

Sen. Zach Duckworth (57, R) also spoke in opposition to the bill. “Teaching is an extremely difficult and taxing profession at times, which is probably why we have a shortage, which is why we need to make it as easy as possible for people to get their licenses, renew licenses, move up a level in their license if need be,” he said.

Duckworth continued, “If we’re also trying to encourage teachers of color who happen to be largely at the one and two tier licensure level if that’s the goal, I think we need to be very mindful of the limitations that this bill would impose.” 

“If the consistent message is we’ve got a teacher shortage and we want teachers of all backgrounds in the classroom to help our students, if we want pathways, then we have to have a consistent set of bills and legislation here that’s going to allow us to achieve that.”

Steven Montgomery, an 8th-grade social studies teacher at Olson Middle School in Minneapolis testified, “As a product of the current tiered licensure system who has since completed a teacher prep program and has a master’s degree in education, I find it kind of insulting to assume that the only ‘prepared teachers’ are teachers who complete teacher preparation programs.”

He went on to explain the unique value teachers of color bring to the classroom. “Our kids also need empathy in the classroom, life experience, mentorship, constant evaluation, and high-quality preparation for life opportunities and the things that they may face.”

Mina Lein, a second-year special education teacher at Henry High School in Minneapolis and E4E member currently teaching under a K-12 tier two license testified, “I think about the many students of color in the building that I work with, who so deeply rely on the educators of color here to feel seen, prioritized, heard, and understood. They deserve to see themselves in the classroom.”

Lein continued, “Liberation for our teachers and larger communities is providing and maintaining accessible pathways that are already in place. By paper, I’m considered unqualified, but I know this isn’t true.” 

She went to say, “I believe that my work here is thoughtful, intentional, and centers the students that I serve. I believe that I’m prepared to teach our young people the skills that they need to survive and thrive within a system that is structured to oppress them. How dare the system try to make us think and feel otherwise?”

Paula Cole, Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Minnesota, board chair of her local school board, and former teacher testified, “I am here in opposition of one particular piece of Senate File 1477. Who in this shortage going to be put through that humiliation for life every two years to go to PELSB and get a new license? That’s humiliating. We need those teachers. They don’t need us. And we need to start treating people who want to be in the profession with more respect.” 

Cole also suggested the need for improvements to the licensure via the portfolio process “I wish the portfolio process could work better. Can we like stop this thing here? Change it, table it, and then work together in coalition to make portfolio better and more accessible with fewer hoops.”

Nafeesah Muhammad, Deputy Director of Campaigns at Educators for Excellence-Minnesota who, after eight years of teaching, recently left the classroom, had this to say about her time preparing for her own teacher licensure, “Ending the pathway pigeonholes people like me to one kind of learning experience, the pathway that privileges Eurocentric ways of learning and teaching.” 

Muhammad ended her testimony with two powerful questions for the Committee, “When deciding how to vote on the bill, please consider the following. Do you wish to support increasing teacher diversity and reducing the teacher shortage? Or do you wish to protect the wealth of institutions that benefit from all teacher candidates being forced to attend traditional preparation programs regardless of their professional experiences or personal situations?”

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The Battle to Defend Tiered Licensure Continues at the Legislature