The state’s newly enacted education funding bill includes a “historic investment” in efforts to boost the number of teachers of color in Minnesota, but there were missed opportunities, too, a chief advocate for the cause said Friday.

“We’re in a deep hole, and it’s going to take decades to get out of this hole,” said Paul Spies, legislative action team lead for the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota.

A Star Tribune analysis has found that although about one-third of the state’s kindergarten through 12th-grade students are nonwhite, teachers of color make up about 5% of full- and part-time teachers.

Coalition members and others have in recent years cited research showing teachers of color help narrow the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers and inspire kids to stay in school, too. That’s helped prompt legislators and Gov. Tim Walz to sign off on a bill last week that triples the existing K-12 spending on teacher-of-color recruitment and retention to about $13 million annually, according to a coalition analysis.

The bulk of the new spending involves increases in existing programs, but new to the mix are bonuses to attract teachers from other states plus $750,000 in one-time funding for the group Black Men Teach, which has the relatively narrow goal of adding Black male teachers at eight metro area elementary schools.

Hopkins Public Schools Superintendent Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, the board chairwoman for Black Men Teach, told a state Senate committee this year that 80% of the teachers at six elementary schools in her district were white women — and just two were Black males in a school system in which nearly half of the students are nonwhite.

“We do need teachers of color across the state of Minnesota, but the data and the research clearly demonstrate that Black male educators are almost absent from the profession,” she said. “Cultivating Black males to be elementary educators, and working diligently and directly within the schools, is our secret sauce at Black Men Teach.”

The Come Teach in Minnesota hiring bonuses were pushed by the teachers-of-color coalition and will total $200,000 annually. The program allows a district or school to offer a bonus of $2,500 to $5,000 to an eligible American Indian or person of color from another state or country, and $4,000 to $8,000 if the teacher meets a licensure shortage in the economic development region in which the school is located.

Half of the bonus will be paid when the teacher begins work and the other half after four years of service. A special fund has been created to reimburse districts providing the hiring bonuses.

The biggest increase went to the state’s “grow your own” programs, which take educational assistants, for example, and put them on a track to a teaching license through hands-on training and college or university coursework. The coalition proposed raising the funding from $1.5 million to $8.5 million a year and came away with $6.5 million annually.

The legislation also closed a loophole of sorts that allowed many white teachers to participate in the program. As of July 1, at least 80% of the grant funds for tuition scholarships or stipends benefiting school employees or community members affiliated with a district must go to people of color or American Indians.

A policy change that didn’t make the cut was an effort to set a goal for annual increases in the percentage of teachers of color. Spies said that while everyone agrees that hiring more teachers of color is a priority and the investment this year was appreciated, it still was about 55% of what the coalition said was needed in its proposed Increase Teachers of Color Act.

“Our next steps,” he said, are “to keep coming back and keep working on a systemic change.”

Anthony Lonetree

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