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Teacher prep, pay hikes targeted

Tribune photo by Scott Wente

ST. PAUL -- Teacher salary increases should be tied to student achievement and the quality of school instruction needs to improve, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said while touting his first batch of 2009 legislative proposals.

The governor Tuesday unveiled a plan similar to previous education reform attempts that adds accountability to teacher pay, strengthens teacher training and starts an educational boot camp of sorts for struggling students.

Half of Minnesota's 50,000 teachers will be eligible to retire within the next 15 years, so this is a good time to reform the public teaching system, Pawlenty said. He applauded Minnesota's teaching force, but said more can be done to attract new recruits and improve current teachers' instruction.

"This is not a criticism of teachers," he said of his plan. "This is not teacher-bashing in any respect."

The Republican governor wants lawmakers to consider his Teacher Transformation Act and other reform ideas when they return to the Capitol in January to write a new state budget. Most of the proposals will not cost more money, he said.

Pawlenty proposes:

- Linking a percentage of teacher pay increases to student achievement, in districts that do not participate in his alternative pay program called Quality Compensation.

- Revamping teacher training at Minnesota colleges and universities. Teacher certification standards and course work vary greatly, he said.

- Making it more attractive for mid-career professionals to transition into teaching jobs and recruiting more teachers in areas such as math and science.

- Changing teachers' and principals' professional development programs.

The plan also calls for a pilot summer school program of rigorous instruction in math and reading for struggling eighth-grade students. That often is a make-or-break year, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said. If students are struggling in eighth grade, it is more likely they will struggle throughout high school, she said.

The governor, who flew around the state Tuesday to trumpet his plan, said he timed the release to give lawmakers and others ample time to review them ahead of the session. He also briefed a teachers' union official before the announcement.

But Democratic lawmakers were not thrilled with the plan.

"The governor's kind of putting a finger in the dike, spitting into the wind, and he didn't talk about the elephant in the room, which is the big part of the puzzle," said Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, a House Democratic education leader.