Standing in a classroom full of rules for students, Director of Venture Academy Jon Bacal wishes Minnesota would follow its own rules when it comes to teacher licenses.
"Some of the state's rules, or how they've been interpreted, are real challenges. Teachers have licenses from other states and teaching experience doesn't count for much in Minnesota," he said.
Teachers at Venture Academy, a public charter school where 90 percent of its students are minorities, are trying to close the state's achievement gap. When it comes to the graduation rate, the disparity between whites and many minorities is one of the worst in the country. Four teachers, unaffiliated with Venture Academy, are suing the Board of Teaching, claiming the state doesn't make it easy for out-of-state teachers to get their licenses.
Attorney Rhyddid Watkins is suing the Board of Teaching on behalf of the four teachers struggling to get their licenses. One has a degree from Harvard, and all have vast experience with disadvantaged students. The suit claims the Board denies licenses "based on arbitrary and inconsistent standards."
Watkins said, essentially, "they're being told to go back to school."
That's where the suit argues the board in charge of licensing teachers can't even follow its own rules and fails to provide "legislatively-mandated streamlined procedures," or an alternate route to getting a license when the teachers can demonstrate certain abilities and knowledge.
"What this lawsuit is about is helping to find well-qualified teachers with a track record of eliminating the achievement gap find their way into a classroom where they belong," Watkins said.
While Venture Academy isn't a party in the suit, Bacal said he supports anything that makes it easier to get great teachers in his classrooms.
"We shouldn't slam the door on them. We should invite them in to help them address our achievement gap challenges," Bacal said.
Watkins is handling the case pro bono, and says other teachers, and even school districts, might join the suit.