On July 1, 2016, Ramsey County District Court Judge, Shawn Bartsh ruled that the Board of Teaching was in contempt of court for failing to resume the “Licensure via Portfolio” program that they had abruptly discontinued in 2012 due to “budget constraints.” Judge Bartsh had previously ruled in that the Board must restart its alternative-licensing program, primarily for out-of-state teachers.
The lawsuit, brought against the Board in April 2015 by Nathan Sellers and Rhyddid Watkins on behalf of their teacher Plaintiffs, argued that the Board hadn’t followed the law as laid out in MN.Stat.122A.21.subd.2. Specifically, the complaint asserted that the Board had “arbitrarily denied licenses to well-qualified teachers who clearly meet the statutory requirements.”
The lawsuit and contempt ruling shined a spotlight on the challenges that out-of-state teachers face with obtaining a license through the state’s current licensure system. All public school teachers in Minnesota, including chartered school teachers and district teachers, must have a valid, current license through the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
One of the Plaintiffs, Michelle Hughes, was a 12 year veteran special education and elementary education teacher from San Francisco. She said she joined the lawsuit because, “I had been involved in back and forth with the MDE and Board of Teaching for 19 months in an attempt to get my licenses transferred and the process has been arduous, unclear, and seemingly arbitrary.”
Another reason this lawsuit and ruling are important is because the complex licensure system has been determined to be a contributor to the state’s serious teacher shortage. In the MDE’s 2015 Fiscal Year Report to the Legislature on Teacher Supply and Demand, the MDE found that during the 2013-14 academic year, district and chartered schools had to hire 3,504 teachers who “lacked the necessary licenses for the subjects and the grade levels taught.” The licensing delays are likely also contributing to the state’s shortage of teachers of color. According to the MDE Fiscal Year Report, during the 2013-14 academic year, only 3 percent of Minnesota public school teachers were people of color, as compared to 29 percent of the state’s public school children.
In the MDE’s 2015 Fiscal Year Report district and charter hiring officials indicated frustration with the licensure process, with 65 percent citing licensure standards as a hiring barrier. “Future teachers from other states are no longer coming to Minnesota for licensure… because of the difficulty of obtaining a license with all of the extra requirements beyond their own state licensing,” the MDE report states. “Out of state candidates won’t even apply (for a license) because of all the hoops that they have to jump through and the cost of the license and tests is excessive.”
A recent evaluation report issued by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor in March 2016 on teaching licensure reached similar conclusions to that of the 2015 MDE report. It found that the “complex, unclear and confusing” teacher licensure program is a contributing factor to the state’s teacher shortage.