Governor Terry Branstad is recommending that the state pay to have all Iowa high school juniors take a college entrance exam, like the ACT. 

“When you look at the whole budget we have for K-12 education, it’s a relatively small amount,” Branstad says. “But we do have some families with financial needs that are not taking the ACT or not taking a college entrance exam and we think this is something the state can pay for and will maybe help some families that otherwise might not have considered it.”

Branstad, a Republican, had recommended last year that the state quit paying for preschool for all four-year-olds and, instead, require those who could afford the tuition to pick up the cost.  The state would have provided vouchers, on a sliding scale, to low-income parents who want to send their kids to preschool, but Senate Democrats successfully resisted that change. Branstad is suggesting this latest proposal is tailored to avoid those kind of objections.

“We’re going to pay it for everybody…so we think this will appeal to Senate Democrats. Sorry, I just couldn’t help that,” Branstad said this morning during his weekly news conference, laughing. “They like this idea: make it free for everybody. So I’m sure they’ll like this.”

The proposal is part of Branstad’s education reform package. Branstad is standing by another proposal that would require reading tests for third-graders, and they’d have to repeat the grade if they failed. Some teachers and administrators have suggesting students who can’t read well may be proficient in other subjects and it would be wrong to make them keep studying the same third-grade material in those subjects for another year.

“We need to make sure that we’re providing the extra assistance that’s needed for students that are falling behind in reading, so hopefully that can be achieved,” Branstad said. “But not having social promotion I think is an important part of making sure that people know that we’re serious about that and I think it’s a very important message to send to parents.”

Branstad’s staff sent a survey to teachers, administrators and others who attended this summer’s Iowa Education Summit.  About 600 responded to the survey and nearly 56 percent said making students repeat third grade should be decided on a “case-by-case basis.”  The survey also found 58 percent believe 11th graders should take a college entrance exam to see if they’re ready for college.

AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference.