The Iowa House has voted to add an hour a day to state-funded preschool for four-year-olds, so the kids would have a total of 15 hours of classroom time per week. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, said it’s a better option than the governor’s idea of making third graders repeat the grade if they can’t read well.
“If we truly want to see our kids succeed before third grade, we need to invest in preschool education,” Steckman said.
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said data shows preschool graduates are more likely to finish high school and they’re far less likely to get in trouble with the law during their lifetime.
“We need to invest more in our youngest Iowans because we have the longest-term results by doing that,” Mascher said.
Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mt. Ayr, warned Republicans won’t set aside more money for that extra hour of preschool each day.
“I applaud the opportunity to be able to vote for a few more hours of instruction. I think it would be great for those in preschool,” Dolecheck said. “But I think you’re kidding yourself if you think we’re going to be able to find more money in the preschool program.”
So, the House voted to add the hour onto each day of preschool for a four-year-old, but did not provide any extra money to school districts for that added class time. That decision came during about nine hours of House debate over a variety of education reform proposals. Governor Branstad has been pushing for a package that includes a required annual job review for teachers and exit exams for graduating seniors. Branstad also wants to require that students in teacher education programs at Iowa’s colleges and universities maintain at least a three-point grade average. The House rejected that idea, at the urging of Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa.
“I think this is an unnecessary intrusion of the legislature into the business of the people who run the colleges in this state,” Vander Linden said. “I think they’re perfectly capable of determining who is a graduate of their teaching program and who is capable of being a qualified teacher in the state of Iowa.”
Representative Royd Chambers, a Republian from Sheldon, supported the G.P.A. requirement.
“The entire theme of this particular piece of legislation is a theme of raising the bar when it comes to education,” Chambers said.
Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, said there’s nothing wrong with lifting the bar, but the grade-point requirement could prevent some talented teachers from even entering the profession.
“I’ve been involved in teacher education, training new teachers for two decades now and the evidence is mixed in terms of the G.P.A.,” Kaufmann said. “In fact, in some areas like vocation career, music, cultural education and special education it may not even meet the top predictors of the ability of that teacher.”
Iowa’s attorney general issued an opinion Tuesday afternoon saying state education officials had the authority to let two Iowa school districts establish on-line academies for students in which all instruction is done via the web. Late last night Democrats in the House tried but failed to get Republicans to agree to limit any on-line instruction to 50 percent of an Iowa student’s classroom time. Instead, Republicans voted to let only 900 students in Iowa to enroll in exclusively online academies and let only one percent of students in a district use “open enrollment” to leave the district for an online academy. Representative Jeremy Taylor, a Republican from Sioux City, is a high school teacher who has concerns about on-line classes.
“This does show some good-faith compromise…and not kill the program, but all us to proceed with caution,” Taylor said.
Tuesday’s debate ended shortly before midnight as House rules forbid lawmakers from casting votes between midnight and 8 a.m.
House leaders expect debate to resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.