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Pawlenty renews call for teacher reforms
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Louis Gerstner, left, a former CEO of IBM, heads a group trying to improve the nation's teaching corps for public schools. Gerstner appeared with Gov. Tim Pawlenty Wednesday to promote reforms for training and compensating teachers. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he wants to increase K-12 education funding next year, as long as the money is linked to several key reforms. The governor plans to push the recommendations of a national panel that wants to overhaul the current systems for training and paying teachers. Pawlenty outlined his priorities for schools Wednesday during a meeting with business, education and government leaders.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty is embracing the work of Louis Gerstner, a former CEO of IBM. Gerstner heads a group trying to improve the nation's teaching corps for public schools. The nonprofit Teaching Commission issued a report 10 months ago called, "Teaching At Risk: A Call to Action." Gerstner says big changes are needed, and Minnesota can help lead the way.

"We have to fundamentally change the way we attract young people to teaching, how we train them, how we pay them, how they're held in greater esteem in the community," says Gerstner.

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Image Gov. Pawlenty

Gerstner and the commission have recommended increased salaries for teachers, and switching to a system that bases pay on classroom performance rather than years of service. The report also calls for financial incentives for those who teach high-demand subjects and are willing to work in the most challenging schools.

Those ideas are nothing new to Pawlenty. He's been pushing similar proposals for more than a year. The Republican governor says his Legislative agenda for 2005 will try to expand the number of school districts experimenting with alternatives to the years-of-service pay system. Pawlenty also wants the colleges that train teachers to better meet the needs of the job market.

"I can't tell you how many people I talk to these days who say, 'I'm a teacher, I'm having a hard time finding a job ... I'm a social studies graduate.' Well, that's great. Good for you, but we don't need social studies teachers. We need science teachers and math teachers and special ed teachers and some others," Pawlenty says.

Pawlenty wants to make it easier for scientists or other professionals to enter the teaching profession if they choose. That's another recommendation from the commission report. It's also a proposal that failed to pass in the 2004 session.

We have to fundamentally change the way we attract young people to teaching, how we train them, how we pay them, how they're held in greater esteem in the community.
- Louis Gerstner, The Teaching Commission

Pawlenty says if lawmakers don't approve an alternative pathways bill next year, he'll direct the state board of teaching to make the necessary changes in training requirements.

The statewide teacher's union, Education Minnesota, says teachers are not adverse to the kind of changes proposed by the governor and the Teaching Commission. But the union's vice president, Marc Doepner-Hove, says there aren't enough specifics in the plans to react to.

"To say alternative compensation, what does that mean? To say alternative pathways, what does that mean? To say you're a Ph.D. in physics and now you want to go teach, does he mean kindergarten?" says Doepner-Hove.

The proposals also lack specific information on cost. State finances remain tight and the Teaching Commission Report offers no suggetions on where the money would come from.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says he agrees that changes in the pay structure are needed to attract new teachers to the profession. He says increased spending is the key to getting the reforms off the ground.

"Especially in an environment where we're laying teachers off, trying to maintain teachers in the profession -- those are conflicting messages to send to teachers about the value of being a teacher," says Kelley. "We need more resources. You can't take money away from one group of teachers and hand it to another, and say we're providing an incentive for teaching in Minnesota."

The amount of funding also remains a question mark for Gov. Pawlenty. He says his spending plan for next year still hinges on the state's economic outlook. A new budget forecast is expected next month.

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