Iowa Republicans lay out plans for strong schools, communities

Reform proposals focus on accountability, innovation, choice

It’s all about improving student performance, from preschool through college, Iowa Republican leaders said Tuesday in announcing their Iowa Strong plan for schools and communities.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP legislative leaders called for approving “education reforms that offer accountability, innovation and choice for parents,” Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said at a news conference at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

“Want to look at achievement-driven reform, using evidence-based systems that have been proven to work,” he said.

That apparently includes voluntary preschool, a program Republicans called for ending two years ago.

“I think largely the preschool question has been resolved,” Paulsen said. “We had that debate and we’ll move forward.”

He expects to move forward quickly when the Legislature convenes in January to set an allowable growth number. However, he declined to say what that number might be.

Despite that promise of action, Iowa State Education Association Executive Director Mary Jane Conn was unimpressed.

“If this is an acknowledgement that we need to make that investment, then I’m happy to hear it,” she said.

However, Cobb said, “given the reticence, or perhaps, the refusal of Republicans to provide allowable growth for schools, to invest in programs we know we need to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, that we have foreign language and the kinds of art and robust programs for our students, and then look at the fact they’ve been unwilling to fund basic programming, when I read this, it falls flat.”

Reynolds championed pushing ahead with a host of reforms Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed. The Legislature took up some, but major parts of his plan – including raising teacher pay – are unresolved.

If Iowans elect a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, Reynolds said, “We will be ready on Day 1 to promote career readiness and opportunity for future generations to prosper in Iowa.”

Reform has to be sustainable, Reynolds emphasized, and has to include classroom teachers.

“Teachers tired of new flavor of the day or the new flavor of the year,” she said. “They want something that’s effective, that they understand and wants some assessments that match up with the core curriculum we are asking them to teach.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, warned Iowans not to be fooled by Republicans’ rhetoric.

“They say they will support community colleges, but last year voted to raise tuition and cut job training efforts at community colleges,” McCarthy said. “They say they will support job creation efforts at our Regents institutions, but last year voted to end all state support for research parks and other job creation efforts at our regent institutions.”

Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn, R-Boone, outlined plans to strengthen Iowa communities, including legislative support for the governor’s “Healthiest State Initiative to get Iowans to take ownership of their well-being.

On health care, Behn said Republicans want to establish reimbursement plans that pay for quality outcomes, not the volume of service.

Republicans, he said, want to protect voting integrity by requiring Iowans to show a photo ID when they vote, preserve traditional values by allowing Iowans to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and to oppose the expansion of the federal government by re-affirming state’s rights.

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