Iowa Educators Flee To Union-Strong Minnesota For Better Pay

A “Welcome to Minnesota” sign at the South Dakota / Minnesota border along US Route 12 near Ortonville, Minnesota.

Kindergarten teacher Kathie Card used to work in Iowa.

She still lives here. She has a house in Armstrong, in Emmet County.

But now she’s teaching in Fairmont, Minnesota, ever since the Iowa legislature stripped public employees of their right to collectively bargain in 2017.

“When things started changing, my district was very small and they kept putting us in pay freezes,” Card said. “Things started changing as far as the bargaining and everything, and my daughter teaches in Fairmont, so I said I think I’m ready for a change.”

“That was it in a nutshell,” Card said.

Joe Brown, the superintendent of Fairmont schools used to work in Iowa as well. He taught at the Montezuma school district. He also served in the Iowa Senate from 1979 to 1986.

He chaired the Senate education committee from 1983 to 1986. He had a 100 percent record with the AFL-CIO and the education association, something he’s very proud of.

He’s been working in Minnesota for many years now, and he predicted there would be an influx of Iowa teachers coming across the border before it even happened.

“When the legislature was getting ready to get rid of Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, I sent an email to my daughter’s representative, Sen. [Amanda] Ragan, out of Mason City,” Brown said. “I sent a letter with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, basically thanking them for getting ready to gut Chapter 20 because in Minnesota we’re in dire need of teachers.”

Ragan distributed Brown’s letter to fellow Iowa lawmakers and it made the news. Within the next 48 hours, Brown had 13 applications on his desk from Iowa teachers.

“It’s been easy for us to recruit Iowa teachers and we have,” Brown said.

The Fairmont school district is located in Martin County, Minnesota. It’s the fourth county west of Sioux Falls, just north of the Emmet and Kossuth county lines.

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The first Iowa teachers he hired was a husband and wife team of John and Nicole Kesselring.

“They moved to town, bought a house and had two kids,” Brown said. “I sent a picture of them to Governor [Kim] Reynolds saying thank you.”

John Kesselring said his family moved to Minnesota because his wife was born and raised 40 minutes from Fairmont.

Once they were settled in Minnesota, Kesselring said they found out things are different for teachers in Minnesota.

“The two things that are drastically different are that schools are incredibly well funded here and teachers are better compensated,” Kesselring said. “We didn’t know any better until we came here, but teacher pay is insanely better here. It’s not even close.”

The two-year contract agreement Minnesota offers is a nice perk, too, he added.

Kesselring said he’s not sure why Minnesota schools are better funded, guessing that population numbers have something to do with it.

Or, the trick could be in the strength of the Minnesota teachers’ union.

“The union here is very strong,” Kesselring said. “A lot of people participate in it.”

Brown, a former union man himself, was about to meet with the teachers’ union Monday evening. They’re hoping to settle one of those two-year contracts soon.

“I always tell people I have the best of both worlds,” Brown joked. “I have an Iowa education and a Minnesota paycheck.”

Minnesota is a great state to teach in, Brown said. The state protects faculty and support staff and makes sure everyone is cared for.

Card agreed that she’s been well taken care of in Minnesota.

In fact, even though the 54-year-old keeps her Iowa teaching license up-to-date, she plans to retire from the Minnesota district when she turns 65.

“The pay is just better here,” she said. “I can’t see coming back unless something pretty great happens.”


by Paige Godden
Photo via Tony Webster/Flickr
Posted 7/30/19

2 Comments on "Iowa Educators Flee To Union-Strong Minnesota For Better Pay"

  • It’s not just Minnesota…here in the Quad Cities, we’ve seen an exodus of teachers leaving Iowa for Illinois especially since the changes in Chapter 20 in Iowa. A double whammy for the Iowa side of the Quad Cities is the loss of minority teachers from Davenport who land jobs in the Quad City area school districts in Illinois who also want and need minority teachers for their populations. It may be a “win-win” for our surrounding states but the gutting of Chapter 20 was definitely a “lose-lose” for Iowa.

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