DES MOINES — Iowa House members had some pointed questions, many revolving around money, as they took up Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform package Monday night.

But they opted to leave the work of carving up the bill, or keeping it intact, for another night.

Monday was the first of at least three successive nights scheduled by House members to talk about the governor’s plan. They made it through just over 12 pages of the 64-page bill in 3 1/4 hours.

Some of sharpest questions for the administration came as lawmakers broached the $4 million Iowa Promise Diploma Seal program that creates a battery of assessments students would take in order to prove that they are college and/or career ready.

The proposal has gained strong support from Iowa’s business community, who say they need additional assurances that the students graduating from Iowa’s schools can do the jobs they’re applying for. There also is a concern among higher education officials about the number of students who have to take remedial courses.

“No matter how many times you weigh a cow, it doesn’t gain any weight,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who said she stole the folksy quip from U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

“What about the kids who have no seal on their diploma?” Steckman continued. “Are we tracking kids now? Isn’t that something we’re trying to get away from?”

Sioux City Republican Rep. Ron Jorgenson wondered how the department came up with the $4 million price tag for the “seals.”

Department of Education lobbyist Phil Wise said the department estimated it would cost roughly $3 million to cover the cost of the assessment and an additional $1 million for developing it.

“We’re putting in place the process,” Wise said. “This is an ongoing process that never ends.”

While the diploma seals idea appeared to be the most controversial of the bunch, lawmakers also discussed portions of the bill covering a pilot teaching project and offering scholarships to teacher candidates who are in the top 25 percent of their class. 

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