A panel of legislators assembled by the Governor is recommending big changes for Iowa schools. The group recommends setting a minimum size for Iowa schools by December, and forcing schools that do not take steps to run more efficiently to merge starting in 2008. Representative Scott Raecker (RAK’-er), a Republican from Urbandale, says it’s all about improving student achievement. He says there’s research that’s established a size that’s effective for the most adequate teaching, and some districts in Iowa are below that size. He says there should be some minimum requirements regarding size, and “academic rigor.” Raecker says research shows the size of schools does matter in terms of student performance. “We know we have districts in Iowa that are below that,” he says. Governor Tom Vilsack says the A-C-T scores of students in Iowa’s smallest districts are lower than students in bigger schools. “There really needs to be a honest, frank conversation about education for the future of our children,” Vilsack says. He says it’s “bold” and “politically courageous” to suggest it’s time to force Iowa’s smallest schools to merge. “The point of this is improving educational opportunity for young people,” Vilsack says. “The point of it is that we’re in a very competitive situation and we have got to have significant improvement, continued improvement in our schools.” Vilsack says the size of schools dictates the opportunities for students in those schools. Vilsack admits some small towns will balk at the idea of closing their local school and merging with a neighboring district. “People are very territorial and very concerned about maintaining their (community) identity,” he says. “But if they want to maintain their identity, then there has to be economic viability in the community. In order for there to be economic viability, there has to be an understanding you’re part of a region and if the region succeeeds, then eventually you’re going to succeed. That’s a relatively new notion for a lot of ordinary citizens.” But Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mt. Ayr, says setting a minimum number of students for a school district in Iowa might create districts that’re geographically too large. “I happen to represent a couple of counties that you couldn’t get 600 students in the whole school system if you had the whole county in it,” Dolecheck says. “So you want to be careful.” The governor’s panel also recommended that the state pay a greater share of K-through-12 operations in hopes of reducing local property taxes.
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