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Teach for America Sparks Debate in Minnesota

Things aren't looking too promising in the Twin Cities for Teach for America.

In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million grant to Teach for America, saying that the organization has $350 million in assets and does not need the state's help, according to the Star Tribune. The grant would have added 25 new TFA corps members to the 72 currently working in the Twin Cities area.

Three weeks after the veto, the paper reported, TFA suffered another blow when the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted to rebuff a group license variance, leaving it up to individual districts to apply for alternative teaching licenses for TFA corps members.

Speaking out against the licensure change, two members of the Minnesota Senate published an op-ed in the Star Tribune urging fellow citizens to support TFA in their state's troubled schools. They wrote that putting more hurdles in front of TFA corps members who are currently training "is both reckless and grossly unfair to all parties involved."

In response to that piece, a 31-year-veteran teacher named Claire Hilgeman penned an op-ed contrasting the long road that candidates who enroll in teacher-education programs face with the five-week summer institute TFA corps members complete before teaching full-time in their own classrooms. She wrote:

Do we really want the possibility of students in our most challenging educational environments being taught by people who are in the field because they couldn't find a job after their graduation? Teaching is a calling and an art, not an afterthought.

Then last week, a recent TFA alum who taught in Minnesota responded with her own piece, saying it is a "misconception that TFA teachers in Minnesota are not 'traditionally' trained or qualified." Sara Pimental wrote that she has held a full-time limited Minnesota teaching license for the past two years, has passed the same tests as traditionally trained teachers have, and is enrolled in a traditional licensure program. She went on to defend her bona fides as an educator:

I'm not an outstanding teacher; I'm not terrible. I'm not undertrained; I may be overtrained. I care about student outcomes and how their education impacts their lives. I believe a child's ZIP code or neighborhood should not determine his or her college-readiness. I care about social justice. I believe this can be solved in our lifetime. Let's do it together.
I am committed to that ... and that is not an afterthought. I am a teacher.

The back and forth is not likely to end there—it almost never does when TFA is involved. But at least it's bringing attention—and space in the local paper—to issues around teacher quality and school staffing that affect all states.

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