DES MOINES — Lawmakers were kind, if skeptical, Tuesday night as they took up Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform package and took on Department of Education Director Jason Glass in a House subcommittee.
“Are the timelines realistic? Is this going to make a difference for every student? If I had $187 million to appropriate, is this where I would start?” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, asked somewhat rhetorically during a half-hour question-and-answer session that capped off a two-hour subcommittee meeting. “We have to make sure that our investment is the right investment … We can’t afford any false starts.”
The centerpiece of Branstad’s $187 million education reform plan is a $160 million proposal to raise starting teacher pay and creating different classifications for teachers based on their level of responsibility.
Glass came to the subcommittee meeting with five members of the teacher pay task force to tout the proposal to lawmakers. They were Jessica Gogerty, an administrator in the Des Moines Public School system; Ann Lebo, a teacher in Grundy Center; Denny Wulf, superintendent of Norwalk School District; Kent Henning, president of Grand View University, and Mike May, a former lawmaker and teacher and current member of the Iowa Board of Education.
“Help us make teaching a job (people) want to do,” May told the group as he, like the others from the task force, pushed for the new pay system.
Subcommittees are the time when people and lobbyists can address committees as a whole during the legislative session, as opposed to trying to buttonhole individual lawmakers in the Statehouse hallways.
Lobbyists representing Iowa businesses, school administrators, tradesmen, urban school districts and the chambers of commerce took turns at the table saying how their membership supports the idea of reform and gave the governor credit for making it a top priority.
Criticisms were few, but it was clear that the proposal would get additional scrutiny as it moved forward.
Glass said the proposal is a change from reform efforts in other states he characterized as “aimed at blaming and shaming educators.” Instead, he said, the proposal represents “bold and systematic change” for the state.
Education Committee chairman Ron Jorgenson, R-Sioux City, said he plans to have two meetings next week where lawmakers can get into the details of the bill. He said he hopes to move as quickly as possible on the legislation, but said “it will take some time.”
Tuesday morning, Branstad said he wants the reform package to be completed by the end of February.
“If we get through the whole bill in two nights; if not, then we’re going to do whatever it takes to get it done,” Jorgenson said. “If I can get it done (by February), I’m going to do it. I think it’s important to take the time to do this properly and that’s why I’m going to continue to meet a couple times a week and we’re just going to have to see where we’re at.”