Governor Tom Vilsack appeared before the Iowa Taxpayers Association over the noon-hour today (Tuesday) and told the business group that education policy, not tax cuts, is the key to Iowa’s future. “I’m a little leery about this visit today because I’m not going to talk about tax policy not because it’s not important, but I don’t think it’s the most important thing to talk about today,” Vilsack told the group.
Vilsack proposes using millions of dollars in unexpected state tax revenue to finance a grant program for school innovation projects. For example, Vilsack would give schools grants to experiment with a longer school day or school year, or perhaps to expand music instruction.
“Check out Georgia Tech, now one of the finest universities in the country for engineering. They have a simple requirement for admission…you must be able to prove that you can play at least one musical instrument,” Vilsack says. “Why? Because research shows that those kids are more likely to finish college, go on to (earn advanced degrees) and be more creative.”
Vilsack also proposes bonuses to attract top-flight faculty to the state-supported universities. The governor says he wants dramatic change in the state’s education system. “An education system that recognizes that there has been fundamental change, an education system that recognizes that it’s not just about providing you knowledge that enables you to get a job and keep that job for the rest of your life at the same company, but an education that teaches you how to learn, an education that provides you employability for a lifetime, not employment for a lifetime,” Vilsack says. “(That’s a) major difference.”
According to the governor, the key to Iowa’s economic future is changing the state’s education system so it doesn’t encourage conformity and stifle creativity but instead rewards the dreamers and innovators. Toward that goal, Vilsack will again propose more state money for preschool programs as the governor says only 18 percent of Iowa pre-kindergarteners have access to quality preschool today.
Vilsack contends that for every dollar invested in preschool, there’s a seven dollar economic return. Finally, Vilsack says he’ll propose that the state spend more money to boost teacher salaries, although he’s not yet ready to commit to a specific dollar figure.
“This state cannot be satisfied with 41st in the nation in teacher salaries,” Vilsack says. A National Education Association ranking released Monday indicated Iowa’s average teacher pay was 41st among the 50 states. Vilsack’s speech to the state’s business leaders was applauded, but afterwards when Vilsack opened the floor to questions, not a single person in the crowd asked one.
Vilsack left the crowd with this comment.
“We can talk about tax policy…but it doesn’t get the job done. We need to be much bolder and we need to enlarge this debate much further than that,” Vilsack said. “That’s why I’ve taken the opportunity today to visit with you about these three initiatives.”