It appears legislators of both parties agree they’ll continue a class size-reduction initiative. In each of the past five years the state has set aside 30 million dollars to help schools either hire new teachers for first-second or third grade classrooms or spend the money on reading programs. Mike Connolly, a former classroom teacher from Dubuque who is the democrat co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, says it’s making a difference. “I think all of us have seen the difference in reducing class size in those early grades,” Connolly says. “That’s what’s turned the corner for Iowa and we should not back off it.” Bill Dix, a republican from Shell Rock who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the program has shown results. “The resources that are being spent there are being spent wisely…and it has a lot of support here in the legislature,” Dix says. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a democrat from Ames, says reducing class sizes has helped boost the test scores of elementary school students. “We want teachers to be able to spend more time with each and every individual student,” Quirmbach says. Quirmbach, who is an economics professor at I-S-U, says teachers need to spend time with a student to judge the student’s strengths and weaknesses. “Reducing class sizes is the way to do that,” Quirmbach says. Republican House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City says legislators still need to keep an eye on the class-size reduction program to ensure it’s working. “It may be reviewed as to how the money is being spent. Are we geting the kind of results that we expected to get for that investment?…I think that’s a legitimate discussion,” Rants says. “But will the 30 million dollars continue to be part of our budget? Yes, it will.” The program started in 1999 as a compromise between democrat Governor Tom Vilsack and a republican-controlled legislature that decided to give Vilsack his number one campaign priority — class size reduction — if it was married to one of their pet projects — more money for reading programs.
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