There is some movement in education reform discussions at the statehouse, but no breakthrough.

Senate Democrats have agreed to accept the Republican proposal for a lower starting teacher salary of $33,500 and they’ve accepted the GOP’s lower, $306 per pupil payments to school districts that enact new teacher improvement plans. Senator Herman Quirmbach and other Democrats also have agreed with the GOP demand that schools be able to opt out and do nothing.

“I think that that’s a mistake, but, you know, it’s a matter of trying to find some common ground,” Quirmbach says.

The leading Republican negotiator accuses Democrats of making “little effort to compromise” and blasts Democrats for refusing to accept the GOP’s teacher “accountability” proposals. Quirmbach — the leading Democratic negotiator — says current tests cannot adequately measure teacher effectiveness.

“There’s a lot of research out there that says the efforts so far have not led to any kind of consistent estimates where teachers bounce to the top group to the bottom group and back from one year to the next,” Quirmbach says. “That’s not fair to the teachers and it does nothing to help us improve education.”

But Governor Branstad says his fellow Republicans in the legislature have a “very reasonable proposal” to start linking teacher pay with performance, and Democrats should accept it.

“We need to do things that have accountability and that will improve student achievement,” Branstad says.

The governor says he’s been working on a teacher improvement program for three years and it’s time for legislators to act.

“We need to have accountability and if you look at what’s happened in other states that have passed accountability measures, they have moved ahead of us,” Branstad says. “You even have states like Florida and Alabama that used to be really low that are now caught up with Iowa and that’s because they have accountability and we don’t.”

Branstad says despite spending millions of state tax dollars on reading programs in the early grades in the past decade, one in four Iowa students still aren’t reading at their grade level.