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Senate votes for two-year teacher pay freeze

ST. PAUL — Public school employees would see a two-year salary freeze under a bill that won approval Thursday in the Minnesota Senate.

Supporters argue the pay freeze will help save jobs and protect programs as school districts are struggling with tight budgets.

Critics argue the bill takes away districts’ local control and unfairly penalizes school employees who have in many cases already voluntarily agreed to pay freezes to help struggling school districts.

"I really don’t think it is fair to single out a certain group of individuals," said Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin.

The bill passed 36-29. A similar bill is moving through the House.


The measure would also prohibit school employees from striking over the pay freeze. It also gets rid of an annual Jan. 15 deadline for school districts to reach a contract agreement with its unions or face a $25 per student fine. Also removed are requirements that districts set aside a certain amount of funding for teacher education and that they maintain the same level of school counselors.

Democrats offered several amendments to the bill, including one that would require school superintendents' salaries be capped at 110 percent of the governor’s salary or $132,000. GOP Senate President Michelle Fischbach ruled that amendment was not germane to the bill. Another amendment was offered to exempt the lowest paid employees in school districts, such as paraprofessionals and lunch servers, from the salary freeze. The amendment failed.

Alternative teacher licensure

The Minnesota House also passed a major education bill to create a path for professionals to become licensed teachers.

The bill would allow teaching candidates to earn a two-year temporary license if they attend an approved teacher preparation program. They would also have to have a bachelor’s degree and pass tests in basic skills, content and pedagogy. A local site team in the district would evaluate the candidate and determine whether or not he or she should be licensed. The bill passed 72-59. A similar measure is moving through the Senate.

Supporters say the measure will help address a teaching shortage — especially in the areas of science and math. Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said under current state law, the national teacher of the year could not teach in the state. He said these types of measures have worked well in other states, helping bring skilled individuals into classrooms.

Critics contend the bill lowers standards for teachers. They argue it should require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in the area they plan to teach in. They add that the goal should be to close the achievement gap and that candidates should have to undergo significant peer coaching.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she has long been a supporter of alternative teacher proposals, but she believes this bill lacks key requirements needed to make sure teachers are properly prepared.

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