Democrats initially are offering a somewhat muted reaction to Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform proposals. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, is chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
“Opportunities for teachers to work on their professional development, to collaborate with one another, to adopt best practices,” Quirmbach says, “that’s certainly something that should achieve bipartisan support.”
Yet Branstad is insisting that legislators pass an education reform plan before they decide on a general level of state support of K-12 public schools. By state law, legislators should set that amount by February 14 — for the school year that starts in July of 2014. Schools still don’t know what they’ll be getting from the state for the school year that starts this fall. Quirmbach says lawmakers should follow the law.
“School districts right now are working very hard at putting together budgets, but they’re operating in a fog because they do not have any idea how much resources they’re going to have to spend next year. We owe it to our local school administrators and teachers and principals to give them that number so that they can make intelligent and appropriate decisions.”
Governor Branstad wants to remove the ability local school districts now have to raise property taxes to match whatever general increase in state taxpayer support is forwarded to the district. House Republicans like Speaker Kraig Paulsen aren’t ready to endorse the plan.
“We just got the bill language today,” Paulsen says, “so it’s going to take some time to work through it.”
A debate about the basic formula which distributes general state taxpayer support to public schools, however, will spawn all sorts of proposals. Senator Quirmbach, for example, is interested in ensuring property poor districts get a break.
“We have a pretty good system for financing education. We’re one of the few states that hasn’t been sued over equal protection,” Quirmbach says. “But I think that we need to improve it and my highest priority, then, would be to address those districts that have the highest property tax burden under our existing program.”
Under current law, the state picks up 87.5 percent of the general cost of educating a student and a school district uses local property tax revenue to cover the rest of the cost.