DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad’s warning to lawmakers to work on education reform before deciding education funding received almost as much talk Monday as the plan itself.
Branstad unveiled a five-year, $187 million education reform proposal at his weekly news conference an hour before members of the 85th General Assembly were sworn in.
The centerpiece of his plan is a pay increase for new educators, from a minimum of $28,000 to a minimum of $35,000 in the next five years, and new career paths for teachers that the governor says will help the profession get the respect it deserves. Other key points include:
n Tuition reimbursement and scholarships for teachers who take on hard-to-fill spots.
n College and career readiness seals for graduates who pass an end-of-year exam.
n New teacher and administrator evaluations tied to student achievement.
n Expansion of online learning programs.
Branstad is pushing $14 million in the first year, $72 million in the second year and $187 million at full implementation in five years.
But the kicker for some lawmakers and education professionals was Branstad’s push to do education reform first and work on other education spending after.
“I do not believe we should spend even a minute discussing additional resources to prop up our current educational structure until we have agreed upon reforms our children so richly deserve and so desperately need,” he said.
“It’s not cooperative language. This was the first time that I heard that comment,” said Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, who sits on the House Education Committee and is ranking member of the education appropriations committee.
Still, she said she appreciated the recognition by the governor that “we have great teachers in our schools.”
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said the governor’s allowable growth-reform roll out “is something we’ll discuss as we move forward.”
“You’ve got a pretty large education proposal, so it’s going to take some time to get through it,” he said.
Allowable growth is a percentage increase of the state per pupil cost to be calculated for the upcoming budget year. State law requires that lawmakers set allowable growth 30 days after the Legislature convenes.
“It sets up an adversarial tone going forward,” Bridgette Wagoner, an administrator in the Waverly Shell-Rock School District, said of Branstad’s statement. Wagoner said she’s “sympathetic” to the push for education reform but was still looking at the legislation.
Iowa State Education Association president Tammy Warwo released a statement Monday saying the organization needed time to look at the proposal.
“The ISEA will take the time to study the governor’s education reform proposal weighing it against real-life, quality feed-back like that found in the ISEA VIVA Teacher’s Report where over 1,000 members weighed into the discussion,” Wawro said.
The report, released last week, can be found the on the group’s website at www.isea.org.
Herman Quirmbach, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement the state “cannot take on new responsibilities before we fulfill our existing obligations for allowable growth and for funding the early-grade reading assistance program we passed in last year’s education reform bill.” That seems to put him at odds with Branstad’s priorities.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix took the opposite track, saying the plan was “well-designed” and liked the governor’s debate priorities.
“Any debate about increased funding of a system in need of repair, prior to determining the specific changes, is premature and would be entirely political in nature,” he said. “Let’s decide what needs to be changed first. Then we can answer the funding questions for the new system structure.”