The first thing N’Jai-An Patters may do in a few weeks, after congratulating the class of 2021, is dust off her resume. After eight successful years in the classroom, she is supposed to get a permanent teaching credential this summer. But a bill moving forward in the Legislature could block her path, one of two politically charged measures affecting diversity — or lack thereof — in the state’s teacher corps.
Patters teaches Advanced Placement government and politics to 12th-graders at Minneapolis’s Hiawatha Collegiate High School. Her path to the classroom was unconventional. She has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota and experience helping scores of educators burnish their skills, serving on committees that recommend candidates for master’s degrees and coaching classroom teachers to be more effective.
In a state where 95 percent of the teacher corps is white, there’s a shortage of people like Patters, educators of color who want to work in schools serving primarily students who look like her. But a provision of the bill, House File 1081 — initially dubbed the Increase Teachers of Color Act — would squeeze off a pipeline that’s attracted hundreds of diverse, successful educators with the promise of permanent licenses.
The measure contains a smorgasbord of incentives to attract people of color and Native Americans to teaching and to make Minnesota schools more hospitable: scholarships and loan forgiveness, hiring bonuses for educators of color who move to the state or work in areas where there are teacher shortages, requirements that districts address institutional racism and provide mentorship, training and culturally responsive materials.
Yet, at the same time, the House bill would eliminate a key provision of a three-year-old reform to the state’s teacher licensing system, making it very difficult for anyone who does not train in a Minnesota teacher preparation program, and many who start their teaching career in another state, to get a permanent license.
“It’s ironic,” says Patters. “On the one hand, here are all these things we are going to do to increase teacher diversity. But at the same time, we are not going to do these things that are working toward diversifying.”
More than 700 teachers of color are among the 3,400 who will be impacted if the law changes.
Dozens of teachers and school administrators have testified against the provision. “They took time from their day to beg for their licenses, but their concerns have been dismissed,” Matt Shaver, policy director for the advocacy group EdAllies, told lawmakers at a House hearing Wednesday. “Administrators, teachers, students and families are not asking for this change.”
The bill would also allow school districts and unions to agree to protect small numbers of teachers from underrepresented groups from layoffs. A separate bill under consideration in the state Senate would remove seniority as the sole consideration. Right now, teachers holding licenses targeted in the House bill often do not accrue seniority, so they are the first to be let go, which school districts say makes it hard to retain teachers of color.
Several Minnesota teachers of the year have been laid off in recent years, including 2020 recipient Qorsho Hassan, the first Somali American to win the designation.
Four years ago, lawmakers removed a requirement that seniority be the statewide default for determining how teachers are laid off, requiring districts to negotiate the process with their unions. The state’s largest districts simply wrote “last-in, first-out” clauses into their teacher contracts. Advocates argue that the Senate bill would take a step toward enabling schools to retain diverse educators.
A system a decade in the making
In January, when Gov. Tim Walz released his “Due North” education plan and accompanying budget request, racial equity was at its center. Alongside revising state academic standards to reflect indigenous history and making sure children of color get equitable shares of state resources, the governor called for a concerted push to recruit and retain diverse teachers.
Crafted by lawmakers from Walz’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, House File 1081 contains most of his wish list and sets a goal of increasing the share of teachers of color by 1 percent, or 630, per year.
In a year when issues involving racial justice have divided state lawmakers, the proposal has initial support from the…