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Dayton, GOP compromise on alternative teacher licensure

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Gov. Mark Dayton has reached an agreement with Republican leaders on legislation that will create new ways for people to become teachers.

The so-called "alternative licensure" measure targets people who want to teach, but didn't get a traditional education degree in college. 

Dayton sent a letter Monday to the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees about the measure, which has already been passed by both chambers. The DFL governor said he plans to sign the new compromise.

"While Commissioner Cassellius and I do not agree with every provision in the legislation, after much give and take on both sides, we accept those differences in order to accomplish our shared objective: to pass reforms that will close the achievement gap and raise the educational standard for all Minnesota school children," Dayton wrote.

Dayton said the compromise creates a true alternative pathway program to address projected teacher shortages, assures well-prepared teaching candidates with content expertise and increases teacher diversity.

The measure didn't pass last year amidst a public fight between then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state's teachers union.

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he expects this will be the first of many education proposals where Republicans will find common ground with Gov. Dayton.

"It's a strong bill that's going to help kids out in Minnesota and move Minnesota in the right direction on education reform," Garofalo said. "And it's something that members of both sides of the aisle can vote for with pride and be excited about."

Under the legislation, anyone wishing to become a teacher through an alternative pathway will have to enter a state-approved program, such as Teach for America. Supporters say additional programs would be created, once the language is law.

Those programs and the people entering them would have to meet certain requirements.  All candidates would have to have a 3.0 grade point average, for example.  The new compromise includes additional clarification on the kinds of testing and teaching time candidates must have before assuming full control of a classroom.

The deal is a sharp contrast to last year, when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state's teachers union Education Minnesota fought publicly over the measure. The union kept any bill from passing last year in the DFL-controlled Legislature.

Republicans now control the Legislature; Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, now chairs the Senate education committee.

"I think it was important to us that, everybody has said, that we need to get this behind us. We've got budget; we've got other things on our mind, and this is not the hugest reform in the world," Olson said. "We should be able to move on it; it's been around for several years. Let's get it done."

The effort also got a boost in January when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Twin Cities and chided Minnesota for not having alternative licensure in place.

But Education Minnesota still opposes the measure. President Tom Dooher says even the new compromise version will weaken the rigorous standards currently in place to become a teacher. 

"We're obviously disappointed because we believe there are not enough protections in there to keep the standards high for those entering the profession," Dooher said. "We're going to continue to work with the governor, but on this policy issue we're disagreeing with him."

Dayton said in his letter that he wished oversight provisions in the bill were stronger. But Dayton's education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, said those uncertainties were addressed after conversations with the Minnesota Board of Teaching, which will be charged with approving alternative licensure programs.

"When I talked to the Board, they said they had never closed any programs down before. And this language in there about being able to revoke the approval is strong language that holds them accountable to revoking programs that do not show that they're producing a high-quality candidate," said Cassellius.

Both the state House and Senate will have to vote on the compromise bill before it heads to the governor. Leaders say those votes could happen as early as Thursday.