The House Education Finance Committee on Wednesday heard a bill that would create pathway to be licensed in special education teaching for current paraprofessionals. HF3427 authored by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), would establish a pilot project in partnership with Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota, the surrounding school districts, and the Southwest-West Central Service Cooperative. This program would be available online, on evenings, and weekends to allow paraprofessionals to continue working while gaining the additional credentials.
This is an MREA bill that was considered last year and had strong support in the Senate, but did not make it into the final education bill. Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), who chairs the Higher Education Committee in the Senate, is the companion bill chief author.
This bill addresses the teacher shortage crisis and could be scalable and expanded in the future if the pilot goes well. Southwest Minnesota, like many rural areas of the state, is facing a severe shortage of teachers, especially in special education.
The cost would fund one professor and the adjunct/overload for additional faculty needed for the first three years of this program. The program would then be self-sustaining, drawing on the tuition reimbursement from the first cohort.
The anticipated start for the first cohort is Fall 2016 and a second cohort in Fall 2018.
This opportunity would also give paraprofessionals credit for prior work experience and allow candidates to continue to work while taking about 2-3 classes per semester and in summers, and then finish by completing a year-long student teaching placement while finishing their last courses. The program is planned to take 3 years to complete since candidates would be attending part-time while also continuing their current position.
Currently, Southwest Minnesota State has a successful online 2 + 2 program in Early Childhood Education with 11 community college partners from across the state.
The bill was well received at the House hearing. Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter, who has led the charge, testified in support and asked committee members to strongly consider this proposal since the cost is only $385,000 with a potential gain of 50 teachers in special education at the end of the first cohort. She is a professor at Southwest State and former MREA board member.
The bill will be heard Thursday in the Senate.