State House poised for heated teacher tenure debate

The Republican-controlled Minnesota House is set to take action on legislation that would change teacher tenure protections.

A vote is scheduled Thursday afternoon on the Republican-backed bill, which would require public school districts to negotiate local policies for layoffs and other staffing decisions that emphasize a teacher’s performance over seniority. It would end the practice known as “last in, first out.”

The bill (HF 2) is among the top priorities that House Republicans rolled out at the beginning of the 2015 session. It’s expected to be the session’s first contentious and potentially lengthy floor debate.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the bill is a priority because his caucus wants to make sure every student gets a world-class education.

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“Those just aren’t words. We mean it,” Daudt said. “We think this is a small step in that direction, but an important step.”

The bill also directs the Board of Teaching to speed up the licensing of out-of state teachers to work in Minnesota and allows school districts to hire non-licensed community experts for some vacancies.

Daudt said he’s heard frequently from school officials who are dealing with teacher shortages. He insisted the bill would not push another state mandate on schools.

“We’re going to give them the flexibility to negotiate something other than seniority, and we’re going to make sure that there are other things that are looked at,” he said. “This is not us stepping in and taking over, not at all.”

Many Democrats oppose the bill.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he doesn’t think the GOP plan would ensure that the best teachers are in classrooms.

“They’re proposing a lot of changes that are going to let a lot of unqualified teachers into the classroom, and I just don’t think that’s the direction Minnesotans want us to go,” Thissen said.

House Democrats have several proposed amendments lined up.

The statewide teachers union Education Minnesota strongly opposes the bill. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a similar GOP measure in 2012.

Dayton and Senate Democrats are pushing other education priorities this session.