Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform package was met with mostly positive reaction during a legislative subcommittee on education last night. The package includes raising beginning teacher salaries from $28,000 to $35,000, tuition forgiveness for teachers that stay in Iowa.
Norwalk schools superintendent, Denny Wulf, was on an education task force that developed ideas for the plan and he says it creates pathways so when teachers want to advance in their careers they don’t get pulled out of the classroom. “This new plan requires teachers to spend good portions of their day in the classroom,” Wulf says.
And after numerous business groups threw their support behind the Governor’s proposal, Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat and teacher from Iowa City, said there’s one glaring omission — poverty — which sends kids in and out of schools. “They leave and we have turnover rates that are just unbelievable in some of our schools. So this isn’t addressing any of that,” Macher says.
But Des Moines Public Schools teacher Jessica Gogerty, who served on one of education task forces that advised the governor, says the proposal does address poverty by taking on the whole education system. “We have to act much more systematically and systematically in order to address some of the needs that we have and that’s what this proposal is about,” Gogerty says.
The governor has said he wants the education reforms passed before he will move on to school funding. But the Democratic-controlled Senate plans to move forward with the next school year’s funding instead.
Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, is the chair of the Senate Education Committee. Quirmbach says Democrats have four education proposals they plan to push, including a four-percent increase in state aid to public schools.
“These are the dollars that pay the teachers, buy the textbooks, keep the heat on and put gas in the school buses. It is essential funding that every school must have,” Quirmbach says. “Normally these bills would have been singed into law a year ago so as to give our local school districts a year-and-a-half to plan how best and most effectively to spend the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Quirmbach says the Senate passed the allowable growth last year as required by law — but the House did not. “That was a big mistake and we must correct it quickly. In a few weeks all of our local school boards across the state are required to set their budgets for the next year. These budget deadlines are no joke, and there is no justification for us to create chaos in the very institutions that we depend on to educate our children,” Quirmbach says.
Quirmbach says another part of their plan addresses property tax relief. “Specifically we propose additional state funding so that there will be no property tax increases related to the four-percent allowable growth that we propose for the coming year. Moreover, we will significantly buy down the school property tax rate in districts that have higher than average tax rates due to less property valuation per student,” Quirmbach explains.
“This relieve will be paid for from the Taxpyers Trust Fund which was set up on a bipartisan basis a year or two ago for just this sort of purpose.” Quirmbach says a funding decision for schools is needed immediately and the state cannot wait to complete the education reform proposals before setting the funding level.