DES MOINES — House Republicans kept the majority of Gov. Terry Branstad’s education proposal intact Tuesday night, but made some key changes to online learning, high school testing and teacher discipline.
The night was absent much of the partisan acrimony that characterized Monday’s almost-meeting which ended without public debate after a 5½-hour closed-door caucus.
Tuesday night, Democrats and Republicans were in accord on a few amendments, including one that set up a commission to study competency-based education and one that may have significant impact on two online schools scheduled to open this fall.
“I’m a proponent of online school and we pretty much killed it the way it is,” said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, chairman of the House education committee.
On a 12-11 vote, Republicans amended their own bill to say that online schools cannot deliver instruction solely online or they would lose 70 percent of their per-pupil funding. Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal allowed 100 percent of instruction to be delivered online and it did not require a teacher to be certified in the area they teach.
The amendment also eliminated an exemption for the Clayton Ridge Community School District and the CAM Community School District that was part of Branstad’s proposal.
“I’m not suggesting that it’s a person standing over the shoulder, but it could be touching base with a student once a week,” said Rep. Jeremy Taylor, R-Sioux City, who offered the amendment. “But all of that is very important.”
While the Republican plan leaves much of Branstad’s proposal intact, but it did make some changes to the governor’s bill, including:
- Allowing students to take either a college entrance exam or a career readiness test in the 11th grade. The department recommended that all students take a college entrance exam regardless of whether they took a career readiness or not.
- Elimination of an adjudicative process that teachers who disputed discipline could use instead of going to court.
- Eliminating a requirement that prospective teachers earn a 3.0 grade point average in their postsecondary education in order to get accepted to a teacher program.
Democrats offered, and withdrew, several of their amendments, saying they hoped to continue to work on the issues further with Republicans and possibly get an amendment when the legislation hits the House floor.
Republicans hold a 60-40 majority in the House and a 14-9 majority on the education committee.
“Although we can agree on the goals, sometimes we have to have a little more conversation how to get there,” Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “I hope we can work not only on the policy but also on the funding piece.”
Democrats also pushed and called for votes on several amendments that fell to party-line votes. The Democrats failed to get changes to provisions that mandate teacher seniority cannot be the top consideration during layoffs, rules that make it easier for charter schools to get established, and a statewide reading program that includes retaining third-graders who cannot meet reading standards.
“The literacy is probably the most important piece,” Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, the ranking Democrat on the committee said. The Democrat amendment added additional programs in grades Pre-K through third.
“My favorite saying is ‘No matter how many times you weigh a cow, it doesn’t get any fatter,’” she said. “So can’t keep testing those kids, or hold that retention over their head, unless you’ve done something in the beginning to broaden that literacy.”
Some Republicans supported the bill despite themselves.
“There are things in this bill that I really dislike, but I’m going to support it and we can improve it,” Forristall said.
Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who broke with his party on votes several times during the night, said he wasn’t convinced it was the best deal for his three children or his constituents who have told him they don’t like the plan.
“And that’s what it’s about,” he said. “I’m here because my constituents sent me here.”