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Alternative teacher licensing a good bill

The Minnesota Senate, in a bipartisan 40-23 vote on Thursday, approved a bill calling for a pathway for alternative teacher licensing. Opposed by Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union, the bill as we see it will improve public education, especially in hard-to-find categories in rural schools.

The legislation is geared to help get mid-career professionals into the teaching profession quicker without having to go through all the hoops as would a traditional college student majoring in education. The bill would help teacher candidates gain a two-year limited teaching license in order to work toward a standard teaching license. They would still need to take a minimum of 200 hours of classroom preparation, pass exams in various subjects and have bachelor's degrees.

Education Minnesota, however, would further require that candidates have college degrees in the field in which they plan to teach. That requirement is too onerous, especially for small rural school districts which lack adequate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers because the lone science teacher doesn't have a math degree. And some schools may be aided by the company engineer that doesn't have a degree in science but by experience knows enough to teach physical science.

The bill won three Democratic votes, including that of Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, former chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Supporters of the bill note that failure to have an alternative teacher licensure program was one of the reasons why Minnesota didn't qualify last year for tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds in the Race to the Top program.

The alternative licensing bill is a way to get new blood into the educational system while maintaining quality in education. It does set up standards, while not as strict as young beginning teachers in college would expect. It fills void right now that lacks qualified instructors in STEM fields, and would also help provide fresh teachers for low-income, minority-heavy schools that face No Child Left Behind sanctions.

It is understandable that the teachers' union would oppose legislation that under which it is perceived to lose some control over the profession, but alternative teacher licensing will improve public education.

The House Ways and Means Committee also approved the companion bill Thursday, sending it to the House floor next week. We hope that a bill can be sent to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk soon, and that he sign it. --