July 29, 2014

House Republicans make education reform optional

Republicans in the Iowa House are scaling back Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform plan, making it optional rather than mandatory for schools.

“I’m hoping that all of them will opt in to the program, but…some of them may be just leery of change and whether this will work or not,” Jorgensen says, “and so they may delay coming in until they see how effective it is for others.”

Branstad has proposed a “teacher leadership” plan for schools that would give bonuses to teachers chosen to serve as mentors and coaches for other teachers in their school. The governor also has called for raising the starting teacher salary to $35,000 — but House Republicans want to reduce that and make it optional, too.

Linda Fandel, a senior advisor to Governor Branstad on education issues, says those are not “critical” changes.

“The teacher career pathways provide such an attractive opportunity for school districts, you know, both the teacher leadership that they put in place, and the additional funding that comes with it, that school districts will want to do this,” Fandel says.

Jorgensen, a former school board member, says it’s about giving local school officials more control.

“We want to encourage everyone to come in,” Jorgensen says, “but I’d rather not mandate that they do something that they might feel that they’ve got a better system where they’re at right now.”

House Republicans have targeted the optional starting salary for teachers at $32,000.

“Percentage-wise it’s still pretty good growth,” Jorgensen says. “From $28,000 to $32,000 — so we’re still going up $4000 in salary.”

But that’s a far cry from the $45,000 starting teacher salary a state task force called for this past fall. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City who is a retired teacher, says the GOP changes are disappointing.

“It’s kind of obvious to me that this really isn’t a huge priority for them,” Steckman says. “…They cut a lot of the funding. They made it so it’s not mandatory.”

House Republican leaders hope to schedule debate of education reform in the full, 100-member House next week. The House Education Committee began reviewing the GOP changes this afternoon, with plans to resume their work this evening.