Minnesota Senate committee advances bill to increase teachers of color in Minnesota schools

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Fourth grader Azomali Obiasakin was at the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday with a personal plea: Asking the legislature to pass policies to increase teachers of color in schools across the state.

“At my new school, they know how to handle difficult situations because there are more teachers of color,” Obiasakin told a Senate panel. “Please pass the teachers of color act so more kids can feel happy in their schools.”

Obiasakin and other students told a Senate committee on Wednesday there is a crucial need for educators who look like them in classrooms everywhere. The current make-up of Minnesota’s teacher workforce doesn’t accurately reflect the diversity of the student population — 37% of students identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, compared to just 6% of the state’s teachers.

State lawmakers are trying to bridge that gap, as research shows better representation positively impacts students’ learning.

“The proposed policies in this bill are essential to closing the persistent and unacceptable opportunity and achievement gap,” said Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton. “And the policies and the provisions in this bill are crucial to ensuring a strong return on our state investment.”

A proposal that cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday would expand and strengthen some provisions of the Teachers of Color Act, an effort that has seen bipartisan support in the past. It sets a new benchmark of increasing the number of BIPOC teachers by 2% each year, so all students have access to diverse educators by 2040.

The bill also earmarks $100 million in grants and scholarships for recruiting and retaining people with diverse backgrounds into the profession and increase hiring bonuses for out-of-state teachers to come to Minnesota.

Azomali Obiasakin


Sarah Lancaster, who teaches first grade in Onamia, said she is the only teacher of color in her whole district. She testified that she’s seen the impact of having someone like her lead the classroom.

“It’s impossible for one person or one type of person to show up for every child,” Lancaster said. “And in order to provide rich learning experiences for all of our students, we must ensure that the population of educators is as beautifully diverse as the students we teach.”

The legislation also prohibits public schools for adopting a name, symbol or image that is associated American Indian tribes to be used in mascot, nickname, logo, or team name in a school district.

“If you want to put a title on this [bill] — this is certainly the biggest one — this is like ‘Teachers of Color: We Mean It,”’ Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who has authored previous iterations of this proposal now in law.

He said he supports the proposal, but raised concern that some language used in the bill, like “antiracist,” would drive some lawmakers away from also voting for it.

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