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Minnesota: New plan for uncertified SPED teachers

July 19, 2023, MN Public Radio: With federal threat looming, Minnesota proposes new plan for special education teachers

Minnesota will limit the number of years a special education teacher can work without any formal training, according to a corrective-action plan submitted Monday to the federal government.

In mid-May, the federal Office of Special Education Programs gave Minnesota 60 days to develop a corrective-action plan to bring the state into compliance with federal law. If Minnesota did not address the discrepancy, $219 million in federal special education funding could have been at risk.

“We are confident the federal Office of Special Education Programs will accept our action plan and we look forward to working with our partners and state lawmakers to make the recommended changes in the 2024 session,” said Minnesota Department of Education spokesperson Kevin Burns.

Senator Steve Cwodzinski (DFL–Eden Prairie), who chairs the Senate Education Policy Committee, said that he would work to advance the agency’s proposal as quickly as possible in the next legislative session.

“I’m going to really push hard to have this be a standalone bill,” he said. “It should have bipartisan support, so we’ll get this through right away.”

One in six [17%] Minnesota kids receives special education services, with needs ranging from autism to emotional or behavioral disorders. Black and American Indian kids make up a disproportionate share of students receiving special education services in Minnesota….

By contrast, Mogelson said, “All our state is saying is we just won’t do it for more than three years.”

The letter from the Office of Special Education Programs, she said, described a three-year limit to “personnel who are participating in an alternate route to special education teacher certification.” But Tier 1 teachers are not enrolled in an alternate preparation program, Mogelson said. They receive licenses on an emergency basis. She ultimately questioned whether federal officials will accept Minnesota’s fairly narrow fix.

Tier 1 licenses have been attractive to school districts struggling with an ongoing teacher shortage, particularly in special education positions. But the U.S. Department of Education warned Minnesota in May that special education teachers must be “appropriately and adequately prepared and trained.”

That warning should apply to all Tier 1 special education teachers, Mogelson said. Minnesota’s proposed fix would not affect school districts’ ability to hire special education teachers with a Tier 1 license, as long as they do not maintain that license for more than three years. That means they could either leave their position or enter a training program to get a different tier of license.

Some advocates for special education students previously told Sahan Journal that focusing on a three-year time limit would be too narrow.

Kyena Cornelius, a professor of special education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, told Sahan Journal that any Tier 1 licenses in special education would represent a violation of federal law.

To come into compliance, she said, the state “would need to make sure that they can provide some meaningful preparation or meaningful professional development to all Tier 1 teachers that are assigned to specialized classrooms.” Rather than focus on the number of years teachers can get by without specialized training, Cornelius emphasized that less prepared teachers may not be able to adequately serve some of the state’s highest-need students. Minnesota’s corrective-action plan

A change to Minnesota’s teacher licensure system will require a change in state law. The corrective-action plan details the steps that the Minnesota Department of Education and Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board will take to advocate for a change in state law during the next legislative session….

“I’m going to make sure as many special ed teachers that are willing come testify at that hearing, because I really believe in trying to hear from people in the trenches before we take action,” he said.

The first step on the timeline—notifying the school districts with affected teachers—will go into effect two weeks after the Office of Special Education Programs accepts the plan.

But it’s not immediately clear when the Office of Special Education Programs will make a decision on Minnesota’s proposed corrective-action plan. A spokesperson for the U.S.

Department of Education said Tuesday that the department would review Minnesota’s plan and provide feedback as soon as possible. The spokesperson said the Department of Education will not formally close Minnesota’s noncompliance until the plan has been both approved and fully implemented.

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