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Nation’s educators honor Minn. Gov. Dayton as “true champion”

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Minnesota Gov. Dayton, left, shakes hands with educator and Air Force reservist Matt Reuter.

by Félix Pérez

He has served in the U.S. Senate and stared down — and defeated — a band of extreme state legislators who shut down the Minnesota state government for 20 days to get its way on a budget that placed an oversized burden on middle class families, but ask Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton what his toughest job was and he will say it was teaching high school. So it makes sense that Dayton has made public education a priority of his administration.

The results in Dayton’s first year and a half as governor speak for themselves: he increased education funding and has focused on early learners. Along the way, Dayton also vetoed legislation that would have abolished teacher seniority.

“As a former public school teacher, I know how challenging their jobs are,” said Dayton.

Dayton was honored yesterday as America’s Greatest Education Governor by 9,000 exuberant educators gathered in Washington, D.C., for the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly.

Gov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Dayton has repeatedly stood strong for Minnesota’s students and schools,” said Arizona high school math teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “We are grateful for his continued commitment to students and the education professionals who work in schools and classrooms.”

Dayton was met with cheers and knowing nods when he said, “Excessive testing is ruining learning for students and teaching for teachers.”

No one in the sea of educators listening to Dayton was paying more rapt attention than Matt Reuter, a Winona, Minn., elementary school teacher.

When Reuter, an Air Force reservist who has been teaching for nearly 13 years, returned from a tour in Afghanistan in 2011, his district handed him a bill for $11,000. Under then-Minnesota law, the military pay for deployed teachers went to the district to cover the cost of providing substitute teachers. In Reuter’s case, his deployment pay was $11,000 short.

“I thought it was discriminatory. I kept going at it,” Reuter told EdVotes. Particularly galling, said Reuter, is that the law applied to teachers only.

During a lobby day in early 2012, Reuter told his story to an organizer for Education Minnesota. The story was passed up the chain in the governor’s office until Reuter got a chance to tell his story personally to the governor. Dayton didn’t hesitate. A bill was quickly introduced in the Legislature, introduced by Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake), who is himself a retired educator who served 20 months on active duty, passed and sent to Dayton’s desk.

“I certainly didn’t do this alone,” said Reuter, who credits his local Education Minnesota affiliate, Education Minnesota staff and, especially, Katy Smith, a Minnesota Teacher of the Year who used the access from her high-profile award to share the details of Reuter’s plight with Dayton.

On May 1, Reuter was invited to the bill signing by Dayton (see photo above). The new law ensures teachers who serve in uniform will get the salary owed to them when they return from serving their country.

Recognizing that the new law was not retroactive, delegates to this week’s NEA Representative Assembly in Washington, D.C., came to Reuter’s aid, raising more than $13,000 in appreciation of the veteran’s service to his country and to his students.

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