By Rep. Bobby Joe Champion
Education is, and remains, the central threshold for improving quality of life for all. History has demonstrated this to be the case.
I remember growing up in a family with deep southern roots. Every time I headed south, I was frequently reminded of the sacrifices made by many for Black children so they could have an equal opportunity to learn, read and write, attend college, and succeed. A generation later, as I raise my own children, I am disappointed that we are not meeting our call as a just society to provide all our children with the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom.
For too long, Minnesota has had one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between White children and children of color. It’s time to do something about it. As our nation was tested generations ago, we must face this inequity in our education system head-on with new ways to educate all learners.
While there is no single answer to this challenge, one area of focus at the state legislature has been “alternative teacher licensure.” Most of us agree that great teachers for our children — all of our children — are not just a priority, but a requirement. Alternative teacher licensure would create a path for experts in a specific field to educate Minnesota students in schools where there is a need.
However, many are rightly concerned with the specifics of how we would construct and implement a plan like this in Minnesota. We must ensure that high standards are in place so that our educators are equipped with the skills, know-how, and classroom experience to position our students for success.
There are two significant alternative licensure bills currently being debated at the State Capitol. One is authored by Republican Pat Garafolo and four other Republicans. Another bill is authored by Democrat Carlos Mariani and co-authored by both Democrats and Republicans.
Both bills include similarities such as requiring prospective teachers to have a college degree with good grades, to teach in their fields of expertise, and to have passed content and teaching tests. Only those meeting these requirements should be able to teach our children.
However, the partisan bill does not meet the quality standards our parents and students deserve. The bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Mariani not only provides a new path for experts who want to teach our children, it also ensures that those motivated individuals are held to the highest possible professional standards.
Teachers would be assessed using something called the Teaching Performance Assessment, a widely-accepted method of checking to make sure that teachers are doing right by their students. It also makes sure local school districts have an agreement in place with a high-quality teaching program. In other words, this bill makes sure we get the best people to teach our children to begin with.
If a guarantee that our children get the best and brightest isn’t enough, there is an added benefit. Specific language in the bill encourages the need to reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the school’s student body.
Closing the achievement gap is a tremendous challenge, but it’s one we mustn’t back away from. The next generation of learners deserves our best at the legislature this year as we work on these issues. I hope we can come together on a bipartisan solution that helps prepare our students — all of them — for a globally competitive future.
Bobby Joe Champion represents District 58B in the Minnesota State Legislature. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.