One of the conflicts among Democrats at the statehouse may turn out to be just how many state taxdollars to commit to raising teacher salaries. During the 2006 campaign Governor-elect Chet Culver promised to spend 20 million more to raise Iowa teacher salaries. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs predicts Democrats in the legislature will insist upon even more. It would cost another 55 million on top of Culver’s 20 million to raise Iowa teacher pay to 25th in the country.
"I think you will see the legislature pass a bill that we can point to and credibly say ‘This gets us to 25th in the country,’" Gronstal says. "We have been talking about that for the 25 years that I’ve been in the legislature." Culver isn’t saying whether he’d approve spending that much, but he does say raising teacher pay is a top priority. "We’ll move aggressively and quickly to get our teacher to the nation average (in pay), which they deserve," Culver says.
Republicans have been pressing for the past few years to tie teacher pay to performance. House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City says "throwing money" at the state’s education system isn’t the right answer. "Instead of talking about standards and about how we improve student achievement, I think the debate is only going to focus on money," Rants says. "Frankly, that is not in the best interest of our children."
Senate Republican Leader Mary Lundby of Marion says it’s time for the teachers union to give if it gets its wish for higher pay. Lundby says it’s time to discipline or dismiss teachers that aren’t "making the grade" when it comes to helping students in their classroom. House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines says it’s an "open question" as to whether lawmakers will tie pay with performance.
"I was at a judges’ meeting and a judge said ‘What about this education? What about this pay for performance?’ and I said ‘We’re thinking about applying that to judges’ salaries’ and of course the room went quiet and I said ‘That’s a joke.’ It sounds really good until it’s applied to your particular profession," McCarthy says. "I don’t know that we have any data to show that (merit-based salary hikes for teachers) actually works and increases (students’) test scores." Average teacher pay in Iowa for the last academic year ranked 40th in the country.