February 2021

Minnesota has a shortage of K-12 teachers of color and Native American teachers and with demographics of young people changing in the state, this issue will only get more pronounced without a concerted effort to address it.

One way the state addresses this need is with the Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color Grant. This grant is administered by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board and looks a little bit different at each institution, but most commonly it’s in the form of direct support scholarships to teacher candidates of color and indigenous teacher candidates. Along with these scholarships, private colleges include specialized programming and support for students who receive the grant designed to help students be as successful as possible.

As of fiscal year 2020, five out of the six institutions that receive the grant are private nonprofit institutions — Augsburg University; Concordia University, St. Paul; Hamline University; Saint Mary’s University; and University of St. Thomas.

And in recent budget years, as the need for this support has increased, the state funding has decreased. “In the late ’90s and early 2000s there was significantly more funding for this grant,” said Lonn Maly, dean of the College of Education at Concordia University, St. Paul. “There were years where we were limited by the number of students interested in the program. Now we’re limited in the number of students we can support and feel like we are turning away students.”

Concordia St. Paul has long worked to address the need for more educators of color, Maly said. “In the late ’70s Concordia started working with the state Legislature to help recruit more Black men to become teachers,” Maly said. “More recently, in the ’90s, a number of private colleges came together to collaborate on the work and created the Collaborative Urban Educators Grant, which turned into Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color Grant.”

Private colleges have been at the core of addressing this issue. “Private colleges are very interested in investing in people and our community and one way we do this is through teacher education — we’ve always been a big teacher ed college,” Maly said. “We just have that DNA to try and help solve society’s problems.”

The need for more support for educators of color and Native American educators stems from broader inequities, noted Rebecca Neal, assistant professor of educational and director of the Center for Urban Teaching at Hamline University. “Higher ed plays a role and so does K-12, but the lack of teachers of color is a symptom of the larger issue of societal inequity,” Neal said. “Higher ed plays an extremely important role in addressing the need for more teachers of color but this is much bigger than just that.”

The shortage of educators of color ties into student disparities, Neal said. “Black and indigenous students and other students of color experience a disproportionate amount of the discipline and special ed,” Neal said. “And studies have shown that when students and teachers culturally and racial match, these differences decrease. And students report having better learning experiences.”

“We need to make sure we’re investing in programs that are student-centered,” Neal said. “Without more funding we are putting the burden of addressing this issue on the backs of teacher candidates of color.”

The need for teachers of color is highlighted when you look at the demographics of teachers and students. “In Minnesota, about 4.3 percent of the teaching force are teachers of color or American Indian teachers,” said Kathlene Campbell, dean of the School of Education at the University of St. Thomas. “And students of color are projected to rise to about 36 percent — if we focus in on the Twin Cities that number increases to around 50 percent. So, this is a huge problem.”

Laura Medina Coste
Laura Medina Coste, a graduate of the School of Education’s Grow Your Own program, stands in her classroom in Paul and Shiela Wellstone Elementary in St. Paul. (Photo: Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Colleges are taking a range of steps to address the issue, beyond pursuing expanded state funding for the grants. “At St. Thomas, we have a variety of different pathways for teacher candidates of color — we have paid student teacher internships that help break down financial barriers for students, we work with high school students to get them interested in teaching and we have a pathway for para-professionals to help them get their license,” Campbell said. “All of this is to try and help diversify education.”

“We need to change our notion of what always has been and start to think about what the new normal is in education,” Campbell said. “That would be a game changer.”

There is a bill in the House and Senate, HF 217 and SF 446, that the Minnesota Private College Council supports. This bill provides the necessary state investment to strengthen programs that are proven to recruit, license and retain teachers of color. As the Council and other advocates note, the success of programs like Grow Your Own, the Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators Grant and the Teacher Mentorship Program will not continue or expand to more partners without increased investment.

“Our colleges are critical partners in this work and want to do more,” said Alison Groebner, director of government and community relations at the Minnesota Private College Council. “Strengthened partnership with state government will help ensure we diversify the teaching workforce.”

By Tom Lancaster