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Impact of Minnesota law to lure new teachers still a bit of a mystery

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday signs a bill at the state Capitol that offers professionals a new way to become teachers. Also pictured are Rep. Pat Garofalo, left, and Sen. Terri Bonoff. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Professionals have a new pathway to become Minnesota teachers, but no one knows how many will take the new route.

A bill designed to lure math and science professionals, in particular, into the state schools became law Monday as Gov. Mark Dayton signed it alongside lawmakers from both parties.

House Education Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said that since school districts will decide who they hire, no one knows the impact of the new law.

He predicted districts that will be able to best use the law include those in low-income rural areas that have trouble attracting teachers in some subjects. Science and math teachers often are in the shortest supply.

Garofalo said the number of professionals looking to become teachers will increase over time.

While experts predicted a few years ago that a large percentage of teachers would retire soon, the economy forced some who may have considered leaving the profession to reconsider so they could build up their retirement funds, Garofalo said.

That is one factor that will affect how many people take advantage of the new law, he added.

"We are increasing the pipeline of high-quality teachers," he said.

While the law makes it easier for college-trained professionals to get teacher licenses, those using it still would be required to attend classes about how to teach.

Dayton said the bill signing was a sign that the parties can work together, even in an atmosphere where he and Republican legislative leaders strongly disagree over how to craft a two-year state budget.

A major organization not on board with the alternative teacher license bill is Education Minnesota, which represents about 70,000 educators.

"The key to better teaching does not lie in making it easier to become a teacher," Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said. "Our society does not address issues relating to doctors, attorneys, electricians or any other professional in such a manner."

Dooher said his organization wants alternatively licensed teachers to have "a significant, ongoing student teaching experience under the direct supervision of an experienced educator, to make sure they are fully ready to teach children." But the new law falls short, he said.

Education Minnesota's position also calls for teachers to earn a degree in the field where the teach, although during legislative committee hearings there was testimony indicating that does not always happen through the traditional licensing process.

Garofalo said Monday's bill signing showed there will be more agreement during this legislative session.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," the representative said. "This governor and this Legislature will do a lot."

Dayton said that proposals his Education Department will present later this week include funding to expand all-day kindergarten in some areas, with the idea of making it optional statewide when money is available. The department's proposal also will include a proposal to evaluate teachers.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.