Teach for America suffered its second setback in three weeks at the state level when the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted Friday to deny a group license variance for the teacher trainee organization, a request it has granted for the past four years.
The board’s 8-2 vote means that individual districts and principals will need to fill out applications for a variance from the normal requirement that a teacher be licensed. The board consists mostly of teachers and other educators appointed by the governor.
The decision raises the possibility that some Teach for America corps members will not have a variance they need to teach students by the first day of class, said Crystal Brakke, Teach for America’s Twin Cities director. She called the decision “disheartening.”
Her predecessor, Daniel Sellers, went further. “It’s unconscionable that many Board of Teaching members allowed politics and their allegiances to the teachers union to keep highly effective teachers from teaching in high-needs communities,” said Sellers, now the executive director of the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, an education advocacy group that lobbied the Legislature to weaken teacher seniority and require teacher and principal evaluations.
“We’re going to facilitate this as best we can,” said Rose Hermodson, an assistant commissioner of education.
The group has 72 corps members teaching in the metro area, and hopes to add 43 this fall. Thirty-one already have been offered jobs. Most are with the Minneapolis School District or charter schools. Some of those charter schools start classes well before Labor Day.
The group sustained a blow last month when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million biennial appropriation that would have allowed Teach for America to add 25 members.
The variance is granted to allow the corps members to teach while working toward licensure at Hamline University, which Brakke said most achieve before the end of their two-year stint. Some board members questioned granting a group variance without an independent review of the candidates.
Corps members are paid the same rate as other beginning teachers, and given five weeks of intensive summer training before they start in classes.