A key player in development of the next state budget says education will be priority one. But Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale who was recently appointed chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, isn’t ready to say just how much more money should be spent on education initiatives, like raising teacher pay.

“It’s more than money, though, I believe,” Raecker says. He believes lawmakers will try to find new ways to encourage school districts to share services. But Raecker predicts there will be more state tax dollars committed to raising teacher pay. “It is a concern to Iowans. I’m a parent of young children myself that are in the (public) school system,” Raecker says. “We want our teachers to be adequately paid.” It’s the definition of “adequate pay” that will be debated, though, as Raecker says there’s more to consider than the recent report which ranked Iowa teacher pay 41st in the nation.

Democrat Governor Tom Vilsack wants to put 30-million state tax dollars into raising teacher pay, but Raecker says Republicans may want to target new salary money to shortage areas, like paying math and science leaders an extra stipend since it’s more difficult to attract and retain teachers in those specialty areas.

In addition, Raecker says community colleges should get more state tax dollars to help reduce tuition rates, but he isn’t offering a number for that yet, either.
Raecker says with increasing community college enrollment, state policymakers need to make sure the two-year schools remain an “affordable option” for prospective students. 2006 is an election year, and with a narrow split in the legislature between Republicans and Democrats, decision-making could be difficult as the parties try to make points with voters.

But Raecker believes there’s a lot of “common ground” between Republicans and Democrats and he hopes they’ll focus on their “common goals.” “I think there’s plenty of time for politics after April 18th, which is the scheduled end of the session,” Raecker says. Raecker made his comments on Iowa Public Television.