When third grade teacher Matt Reuter went home to Winona, Minnesota, last July from a tour in Afghanistan with the Air Force reserve, he had an $11,300 bill waiting for him. He was told he told he had to cover the funds Reuter...
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- Hero's Backstory
When third grade teacher Matt Reuter went home to Winona, Minnesota, last July from a tour in Afghanistan with the Air Force reserve, he had an $11,300 bill waiting for him. He was told he told he had to cover the funds Reuter’s school district spent on paying for the reservist’s substitute teachers.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who accepted the NEA’s award “America’s Greatest Education Governor” at the Representative Assembly this summer, told Reuter’s story during his acceptance speech. RA attendees were so moved that they started donating, and collected Reuter’s money in less than one day.
“To know that my colleagues supported me – when they started opening up their wallets and giving a dollar here a dollar there, it was just amazing,” Reuter said. “It showed the generosity of teachers. It made me whole again.”
Reuter had known before his deployment that he would owe his district money upon his return, it was state law. In Minnesota, teachers who are in the military generally have higher civilian wages than they do military wages. Until this May, teachers were paid back the difference between the two salaries, but not before school districts used the money to pay the substitutes they hired in the teacher’s absence.
Many times, that meant teachers got little or none of the differential they were due – or the teachers ended up in debt.
So Reuter started working to change that law in 2010. Finally, thanks to Reuter and others including 2011 Teacher of the Year Katy Smith, Reuter’s union president, and Dayton, Dayton signed the Omnibus K-12 Education Finance Bill in May.
The new bill ensures educators who go overseas to serve are paid their differential before the district spends money to pay the substitutes, and Reuter is more than content with his success.
And after working with different members of the government for the past two years, Reuter is also excited to tell his third graders about the power of one person to affect change.
“I never thought just one person could do that,” Reuter said. “But now when I’m teaching and the kids ask about government, I can say, ‘You can do this, you can! I did!’”
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