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Minnesota Republicans Push for More Unlicensed Teachers in the Classroom

Disclaimer: Cameron Diaz is actually licensed in this movie.

Disclaimer: Cameron Diaz is actually licensed in this movie.

When you have to vaguely dress up unlicensed, untrained teachers as "community experts," you've got something to hide.

Last week, Minnesota House Republicans pushed through an education bill meant to fix teacher layoff policies. Instead of strictly laying off people based on seniority, districts would be able to include skill in the equation. But the bill would also allow "community experts" to lead classrooms.

See also: The Mysterious Partisan Squabble Over Early Education

Who are these "experts?" They're certainly not experts in education.

Historically, community experts are used in rural districts where a teacher suddenly moves away or goes on maternity leave, and there's no one else to finish out the semester. For example, if a town's chemistry teacher suddenly quits, a pharmacist might step in. But only temporarily.

The state teaching board would have to run background just to make sure they're somewhat knowledgeable and they're not pedophiles. Thursday's bill would eliminate the board's right to do that.

Instead, districts would be able to hire anyone they like for any position and for any length of time. Chris Williams, spokesman for the teacher's union Education Minnesota, says these changes could help rural superintendents who think they know better than the board, or charter schools who want cheaper talent.

But Erin Doan, director of the teaching board, says the community expert position was never meant to be a permanent gig. Only shortages throughout the state have lead to more "experts" staying longer than expected.

"If they don't have teacher training, how does that make them an expert and able to be assigned to this particular classroom?" Doan wants to know. "Is being a community expert a backdoor to a long-term teaching career? Likely not. Is it a possibility? Yes, the way it's written currently."

If the bill passes, the board would be allowed to review the effectiveness of community experts after a year on the job. The fear is that if it does find an incompetent hire, the kids will have lost out on a year of education.

In a last ditch effort to create some oversight, Rep. Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview) demanded an amendment requiring schools to notify parents before they assign their kids an unlicensed teacher. But that doesn't mean parents would have any say in the matter.

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