Debate is scheduled for late this afternoon in the Iowa Senate on a bill that would help Iowa qualify for millions of dollars in federal education funds.
The federal government’s new “Race to the Top” initiative provides federal grants to states and to schools that try new programs. Governor Chet Culver is urging legislators to take quick action on the bill which supporters say will ensure Iowa’s rules are in line with the federal “Race to the Top” standards.
“Iowa stands to receive up to $175 million. This will allow us be more innovative in the classroom, build the education infrastructure our students need, turn around underperforming schools and allow more parental choice,” Culver said during his “Condition of the State” message. “Let’s make sure Iowa doesn’t miss out on this great opportunity for our students. Let’s make sure Iowa remains on the cutting edge in education reform.”
One of the provisions in the bill that’s set for debate lifts the limit on the number of so-called “charter schools” which are allowed in the state — schools which can ignore some state regulations in order to try new ways of teaching. But Iowa’s law doesn’t let private companies run charter schools and Republicans like Representative Mike May of Spirit Lake are trying to tack that proposal onto the package.
“Frankly, if the public schools are not been performing well, we ought to give the innovators an opportunity,” May says.
Democrats aren’t likely to agree to let private companies run charter schools, however. The bill must be on the the governor’s desk by the end of the week to meet a federal deadline. The bill has cleared committees in both the House and Senate. The full, 50-member Senate is scheduled to start debating the bill at 4:30 this afternoon. The bill’s on a fast track in the House, too.
Iowa schools face a January 19th deadline to submit applications for the federal grants.