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New teacher licenses expected to pass

Don Davis/ State Capitol Bureau Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul tells a Minnesota House committee about his bill that allows professional workers to become teachers after taking teacher training.

ST. PAUL -- A key legislator said he is confident Minnesota soon will provide a new path for professionals to become classroom teachers.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the so-called alternative licensure provision will be one of many education reforms the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will adopt.

Garofalo and Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, are offering similar bills that spell out what people without traditional teacher education need to do before they may be licensed as teachers. The House Education Reform Committee on Thursday began considering the bills, a process that will continue next week.

The bills require anyone who may be considering becoming a teacher to have a bachelor's degree; pass reading, writing and math basic skills test; and obtain qualifying scores on the state Board of Teaching's exams. Garofalo and Mariani also require at least 200 hours of education about becoming a teacher, as well as spending time as a student teacher.

Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Finance Committee, said he would leave the decision about hiring non-traditional teachers to individual school districts.

The state would not force any school to hire one, he added.

Small rural school districts that have trouble finding teachers, especially in math and science, and urban areas with large minority populations would most benefit from alternative teacher licensure, Garofalo said.

"There is a difference in teacher quality across the state," the Farmington lawmaker said, and allowing experts in specific areas become teachers could help.

Cecilia Retelle of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce gave the Education Reform Committee an example of how bringing in people from outside traditional education systems would help.

In Worthington, which has an expanding Spanish-speaking population, there are not enough traditional teachers who know the native language, she said. If the schools could hire Spanish-speaking professionals from outside of education, she added, the students could better understand in class.

She said programs such as Teach for America, which has a Twin Cities program, have been successful at bringing professionals into the classroom.

Mariani said that while current law does, in theory, allow professionals to become teachers, it is "unworkable."

Lawmakers are looking at alternative licensure to help minority students in particular because most Minnesota teachers are white.

"It's not because we have lousy teachers," Mariani said.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.