Minnesota’s classroom shortages are a serious problem

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Teacher shortages in Minnesota have reached critical levels, and there’s no easy fix. The issue is not confined to just one part of the system; unsustainable trends in teacher recruitment, licensure areas, and increased retirements have worked together to create a school environment in which students either do not have the right teachers in the classroom or schools can’t find enough applicants for the positions they need to fill. This happens most frequently in rural communities, and if continued, will badly damage Minnesota’s ability to provide a strong education for students no matter where they live in the state.

80 percent of school administrators statewide have reported that it was either “difficult” or “very difficult” to fill vacant positions for the current school year. Seven percent of educators are teaching outside their licensure area because their districts can’t find enough candidates to fill necessary positions, and another ten percent of Minnesota teachers left the profession in 2012-13. After working with rural school districts and stakeholders, I have put together a bill to address the many challenges faced by our schools as they try to find and keep enough educators in the classroom.

Thankfully, just because it’s not an easy fix doesn’t mean it can’t be a bipartisan bill. The Teacher Shortage Act has already earned strong support from both parties as it passed the Minnesota Senate’s Education Policy Committee this week on a unanimous vote. The House author, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), and I have had many disagreements about what is best for our kids in the past, but attracting and keeping great teachers is something we can both support. I’m particularly pleased that in this contentious political atmosphere, we have been able to bring Democrats, Republicans, teachers, and administrators to the table to begin working to find the best possible solution for our kids.

The Teacher Shortage Act is comprised of seven separate initiatives designed to reduce the teacher shortage in Minnesota. A statewide teacher job board for teacher candidates will help new educators find open positions and districts, particularly in rural communities where it has been more difficult to advertise. As they find open positions, grants will be made available to student teachers who are willing to work in shortage areas like math, science, and special education.

To attract students to the profession in the first place, an expansion of the existing Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness program for teachers in shortage areas or communities in need will make financing a teacher education more possible. Once they are in a teaching position, bringing Teacher Evaluation and Development funding statewide to provide rural teachers with better training, support, and development so they are more likely to stay in the classroom long term.

The Teacher Shortage Act also broadens the scope of Minnesota’s science licensure, in order to make licenses better reflect both need and usage in our classrooms, and creates a “Grow Your Own” pathway to licensure for local paraprofessionals who want to become licensed teachers in the districts they already teach. We have also requested a Special Education Educator Programs Report, in which MnSCU will supply a report on special education teacher programs and graduation statistics to help assess shortages in that field.

This is a landmark, bipartisan piece of legislation for our schools and our kids. It still has far to go before it lands on the Governor’s desk for a signature, but we have taken the first steps in the process of attracting the best teacher candidates and keeping them in Minnesota classrooms where they belong.

Senator Kevin Dahle
Kevin Dahle represents District 20, which includes portions of Le Sueur, Rice, and Scott counties in the south central part of the state.

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