August 31, 2014

Governor, legislators ponder education reform ideas

Governor Branstad is again putting “education reform” on his to-do list for legislators.

“I think we need to focus on things that are going to improve student achievement,” Branstad said recently during an interview with Radio Iowa, “and having great teachers is an important part of motivating students to achieve at the highest level possible.”

Branstad will reveal the details of his proposal next Tuesday, during his “Condition of the State” Address to legislators, but the governor already has outlined his primary goals.

“You want to attract top quality people to the profession. You also want a career ladder that makes it possible for talented teachers to stay in the profession, move up to leadership positions at an earlier age,” Branstad told Radio Iowa in December. “Those are all things that I hope we can accomplish in the education reforms that we’re looking at.”

Those ideas were included in a teacher pay initiative Branstad’s education director unveiled in the fall of 2011, but the proposals were tabled as the governor said the state didn’t have the resources to finance those moves. The state now has a billion dollar surplus, but it’s unclear how much Branstad will commit to the teacher pay effort, as using that excess to provide commercial property tax relief is a higher priority for the governor. According to Senator Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, the top Democrat in the legislature, lawmakers are “open” to raising teacher pay.

“The idea of paying teachers what they’re worth makes sense,” Gronstal said during a Radio Iowa interview.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, the top Republican in the legislature, said legislators also need to ensure high-performing students don’t get bored in high school.

“A lot of that has to do with the high school years and the transition to college and how we smooth that, accelerate that, provide dual-credit opportunities — some of those different types of things,” Paulsen told Radio Iowa.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock said legislators must address the shortage of math and science teachers, too.

“The private sector has offered better compensation packages and in order to maintain and attract quality people into the classroom, we may need to be more flexible in how some of those needs can be met,” Dix said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “Now whether it’s signing bonuses or flexibilities in how they are compensated, those skill sets clearly need to be accommodated at higher levels.”

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines expects Branstad’s education reform package to be in the range of $177-million in additional spending.

“Increases in teacher pay, trying to find new efforts to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers, and so at least thematically we will work with him in that regain and work with him in a bipartisan way,” McCarthy told Radio Iowa.

The Iowa legislature convenes Monday, January 14.