Listen to English learners on education bill

Kenneth Palmer

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Minnesota has the nation’s worst disparities in educational outcomes between students of color and white students.

For years, legislators have lamented that they lacked the necessary votes and funds to make real changes to our educational system. This year they have a trifecta and the money — a $17.5 billion surplus.

And yet, the Minnesota Legislature’s failure to incorporate and adequately fund certain proposals in the education omnibus bill render English-language learners (ELL), the fastest-growing student population in the state, virtually invisible.

Currently, three proposals before the Legislature could have a profound impact on academic outcomes for English-language learners: 1) Incorporating accountability into ELL funding formulas; 2) increasing teacher diversity through the Increase Teachers of Color Act, and 3) preserving teacher licensure pathways proven effective in recruiting teachers of color and teachers from low-income backgrounds.

Our organizations represent a diverse coalition of parents, teachers, educators and businesses strongly supporting these three proposals.

First, we partnered with legislators to add accountability measures to the Learning English for Academic Proficiency and Success (LEAPS) Act. Yet the LEAPS Act, passed by the Legislature several years ago, never received the funding for its implementation. The LEAPS Act would enhance professional development for teachers and administrators, recognize the diversity of multilingual learners, and engage the voices of parents, students and the community in the design and implementation of ELL programs.

Unfortunately, these measures were not included in the education omnibus bill. Funding is critical, but best practices and accountability are fundamental to changing education outcomes. More funding without accountability will preserve the status quo and widen existing gaps.

Second, we know that all students benefit from teachers of color in the classroom. Yet, our teacher workforce has not kept pace with the growing diversity of our students. The disparity is staggering. In Minnesota, there is one white teacher for every nine white students, but one BIPOC teacher for every 90 BIPOC students.

Despite this, the Legislature has underfunded critical programs within the Increase Teachers of Color Act. The Senate, for example, has proposed no new funding for the Underrepresented Student Teacher Grants program, while neither the House nor the Senate has proposed new funding for the Minnesota Aspiring Teachers of Color Scholarship program. Both programs would provide grants and scholarships for teachers of color to enter the profession.

If we can’t fully fund the Increase Teachers of Color Act now — with the historic surplus and the trifecta of supportive leadership in the House, Senate and the governor’s office — it is hard to imagine when we ever will be able to do so.

Third, amid widespread teacher shortages, Minnesota is hurtling toward a reversal of hard-fought advances in the teacher licensure system, impacting nearly 800 teachers, a disproportionate number of whom are teachers of color.

Provisions in the omnibus bill would eliminate the pathway to permanent licensure for educators with demonstrated success as Tier 2 licensed teachers (defined as three years of experience and a positive summative evaluation) — thus making a master’s degree in the content area, completing a teacher preparation program or being currently enrolled in a preparation program the only ways to stay in the profession regardless of a school’s need or the teacher’s impact.

Students, parents, teachers and school administrators are not asking for this. The Minnesota School Boards Association has voiced opposition to this bill, as have 16 other education advocacy organizations. This bill moves teacher diversity, teacher recruitment and the teacher shortage in the wrong direction.

Our children depend on our legislators to make decisions that advance equity and better our educational system. The time is now to support fully funding the Increase Teachers of Color Act, keeping and improving current tiered licensure pathways and attaching increased accountability to English Language Learner funding as outlined in the LEAPS Act. There are no more excuses.

Katya Zepeda is legislative and policy director — education at Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs. Irma Márquez Trapero is executive director at LatinoLEAD. Paula Cole is executive director at Educators for Excellence-Minnesota.

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