Iowa House Republicans want to make education reforms optional

Branstad spokesman: Governor believes districts will want to participate, even without mandate

House Republicans want to make the centerpiece of Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform package optional.

That means school districts wouldn’t have to adopt the career ladder plan, which creates classes of lead, master and mentor teachers, nor would they have to adopt a new minimum wage for teachers.

In addition to making it optional, House Republicans also proposed lowering the minimum starting salary for teachers from $35,000 to $32,000.

“I’m hoping that all of them will opt into the program, but, I think, that’s a decision each individual district will look at,” said Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, chairman of the House Education Committee, which took up the governor’s proposal last night.

Linda Fandel, Branstad’s special adviser on education policy, said making the compensation and career piece optional wouldn’t be a problem.

“I think the teacher career pathways provide such an attractive opportunity for school districts, both the teacher leadership that they put in place and the additional funding that comes with it, that school districts will want to do this,” she said. “I don’t think it’s critical to have it mandatory.”

Opting in to the program would give districts access to roughly an additional $300 per student. There are some restrictions on how the money can be spent, but it includes teacher salaries, teacher training and additional hiring.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a retired teacher and ranking member of the House Education Committee, said the changes proved to her that Republicans weren’t taking education reform seriously.

“It’s obvious it’s not a huge priority for them,” she said. “They cut a lot of the funding, they made it so it’s not mandatory, and I’m still looking for that research base for some of the points that they did.”

The proposal also requires annual supervisor employment reviews for teachers. It is expected to go to the House floor for a full vote next week and then on to the Senate. Senators are holding their own meetings on Branstad’s proposals.

“We know both the House and the Senate are going to work to improve the governor and lieutenant governor’s bill, and we’re going to be very interested in working with them to do that,” Fandel said.

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