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Gov. Mark Dayton Friday vetoed $1.5 million earmarked for Teach For America in the higher education funding bill after a lobbying contest pitting the organization against unionized teachers.

Dayton argued that an open competition for the funds should precede the biennial appropriation he vetoed .

The money was sought by education reform groups who argued that it would leverage at least three times times the state investment. Some 15 states already fund TFA or are expected to do so this legislative session, said Crystal Brakke, the group's Twin Cities executive director.

The vetoed money would have funded 25 more new college graduates in Twin Cities classrooms. They get five weeks of intensive TFA summer training before entering classrooms, followed by coaching by an experienced teacher and classes toward state licensure at Hamline University.

There are 72 Teach For America teachers currently in their first two years of teaching in the Twin Cities area; 51 percent continue in teaching after their two-year commitment, Brakke said. The group plans to add 45 more teachers this fall, with nearly one-third minorities.

But the state money was opposed by teachers who view the program as undercutting union teaching jobs. "We have a tradition of a strong teaching corps, a well-educated teaching workforce, and TFA undercuts that," said Caroline Hooper, a teacher at Southwest High School in Minneapolis who lobbied against the money. Education Minnesota, representing unionized teachers, urged members to contact legislators and Dayton against the $1.5 million.

Dayton said that Teach For America is a financially healthy national program that reported $270 million in 2011 revenue, and has $350 million in assets. That begs the question of why it needs the state help, Dayton said. Brakke said that most money is raised locally, and that Minnesota dollars fund Minnesota TFA teachers.

But Dayton said his biggest concern was the process for the appropriation, which originated in the Senate. "No competitive grant program was established, no other applications were solicited, and no objective review was made by an independent panel of experts," he wrote in his veto message.

The appropriation originated in the Senate, where a disappointed Sen. Terri Bonoff, the higher educaiton bill's sponsor, said it shows continued state resistance to alternative licensing efforts for teachers.

Opponents of the organization allege that TFA puts undertrained youth in classrooms and ill-serves disadvantaged students. Brakke said surveyed principals report a high satisfaction rate with TFA teachers..

The Minneapolis district has the biggest cluster of Teach For America teachers with 20 in its classrooms this year, plus six more teachers who are alumni of the program. Another cluster of TFA alumni is working in district administrative positions. School board member Josh Reimnitz is a TFA alumnus who taught in Atlanta, and the organizations co-CEO, Matt Kramer, is based in Minneapolis..

The district supported the appropriation. District spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said the program means the district "continues its tradition of cultivating excellent educators through alternative licensure programs and is able to identify competitive candidates in hard-to-fill areas such as bilingual education, English as a Second Language, science and math."