DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate passed its version of education reform on a party-line vote Tuesday setting the stage for hard negotiations with House Republicans and Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration.

The vote capped off several hours of debate that devolved into some sniping and berating between a couple of senators over statistical definitions and classroom size by the end of the night.

The Republican-controlled House passed its education reform package last month after spending an entire evening plus a half-hour the next morning in debate.

If the House declines to pick up the Senate version and the Senate declines to pick the House version, the bills will have to go to a conference committee where a negotiated deal would be hammered out and sent to the governor.

“It’s been a long morning, afternoon and evening,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who said the most important part of the reform package was increasing state aid by 4 percent for two years. “We must keep our existing system moving forward even as we challenge it to reach new heights.”

Key differences remain between the two bills:

  • The Senate version includes 4 percent increase in allowable growth. That’s the formula used to determine how much state aid per student a school district receives. The House bill calls for a 2 percent increase;
  • The Senate bill allows school districts to keep their teacher career ladders in place, choose two new options or come up with their own model. The House version creates a new career ladder and makes it optional, but only districts that opt in get the extra money that comes with making the change;
  • The Senate bill also puts in about $400 extra per student for school districts when they adopt a formal teacher career ladder. The House version puts in roughly $305 per student if districts choose to opt in;
  • The Senate version raises starting teacher pay from $28,000 to $35,000. The House bill raises it from $28,000 to $32,000.

The Senate bill came to pass only after several stops as Republicans tried to attach amendments to the Democrat-majority’s bill. Only one Republican amendment — dealing with creation of a parent liaison program — was successfully attached.

Typical of the way most GOP amendments were handled was an exchange between Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak and Quirmbach.

Ernst introduced an amendment that made several changes to the legislation including teacher salaries, career ladders and educational program.

“I read the relevant part of the bill and it said 2 percent allowable growth,” Quirmbach said. “The price of education reform in Iowa is 4 percent.”

The amendment fell on a party-line vote.

Other Republican amendments, which had to do with everything from arming school personnel to changing the makeup of certain boards, fell to either party-line votes or were tossed out before the vote for not being germane to the reform bill.