Iowa House passes education reform bill on party-line vote

Passage of $157 million measure follows marathon debate Tuesday night

UDPATE: The Iowa House pushed through Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform package on a party-line vote Wednesday, moving the debate over how teachers are recruited, paid, evaluated and promoted to the Iowa Senate.

The Republican-controlled House voted 52-44 on a $157 million plan that made several changes to the governor’s original proposal.

Key changes included setting allowable growth at 2 percent and making the proposed teacher career ladders optional. Branstad’s bill was silent on allowable growth and made career ladders mandatory.

“This morning, the Iowa House passed an education reform plan that will set us on a path to again have the nation’s best schools,” Branstad said in a statement sent by his office after Wednesday’s vote. “This plan will give our teachers a new, 21st century system designed to reward their efforts and ensure great teaching in every classroom. Most importantly, this reform means our students will have the skills they need to compete with their peers across the globe.”

Branstad is on an economic development trip in California.

The vote capped off two days of floor debate in the House that began at 6:28 p.m. Tuesday, recessed shortly before midnight and resumed at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The final vote was taken at 8:54 a.m.

“I feel great about what we are about to accomplish,” said state Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, chairman of the House Education Committee and floor manager of the bill. “We are making a significant investment in education that will help move Iowa back to leading the country again in education.”

Arguably the key amendment was one that allowed for 2 percent allowable growth in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. Allowable growth is the state-calculated formula that determines the state’s per-pupil funding.

Democrats attempted to get Republicans to raise allowable growth to 4 percent. That amount would match what the Iowa Senate previously passed this year. Branstad has said the Legislature should approve education reform before it moves on allowable growth.

“I feel we are being held hostage to rush through an education reform bill because the governor doesn’t want to sign allowable growth until education reform is done first,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who is the ranking member of the House Education Committee. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The House bill dangles the promise of increased per student funding of roughly $300 to any school district that adopts new base pay and teacher career ladders called for in the bill. That shift was mandatory in the governor’s bill.

Other amendments added include:

  • A provision to allow a parent, guardian or legal custodian who is providing home schooling education services to a child to also teach driver education courses.
  • A provision to give school districts home rule, which allows them to make their own rules as long as they don’t conflict with state statute. It does not allow school districts to levy a tax unless expressly authorized by the General Assembly.
  • A provision to allow a home school parent to teach up to four unrelated students as long as the parent also is teaching his or her own child.

Democrats also tried to amend the bill in order to raise starting teacher pay.

Current minimum teacher pay is $28,000 a year. The House bill raises that to $32,000 a year. The governor pushed for $35,000 in his original bill, and a task force on teacher compensation decided that $45,000 would be the ideal starting point.

Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, tried to get Republicans to agree to a $35,000 starting pay, and Rep. Frank Wood, D-Eldridge, spoke in favor of pushing that to $45,000. Both measures failed.

Steckman said that the House bill contained too many requirements and that House Republicans “gave students a test-u-cation, not and education.”

The bill now moves to the Iowa Senate, where its future remains unclear. A year ago, Senate Democrats pared down or struck many of the most controversial provisions of the bill, including a third-grade reading retention program, expansion of online learning and a new teacher evaluation system.

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