Little progress made on Iowa education reform

Committee talks policy points beginning with the proposed teacher leadership, career pathways system

Legislators made little progress finding compromise on an education reform package Tuesday, but they plan to resume negotiations Wednesday.

The meeting began with a handshake between co-chairs Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, and Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, but it quickly moved to a stalemate once the conversation began.

Democrats rejected last week’s proposal from Republicans that required the Democrats to accept all the language in the Republican bill in exchange for 2-2-4 funding deal. That’s a 2 percent increase in allowable growth, plus a one-time payment of 2 percent in fiscal year 2014 and a 4 percent increase in 2015.

Instead, the committee agreed to talk policy points, beginning with the proposed teacher leadership and career pathways system that Gov. Terry Branstad has said is the centerpiece of the reform bill.

“We’ve got some huge hurdles to get over on the whole structure of the pathway program,” Jorgensen said after the hour-long meeting broke off for the day.

Branstad’s initial proposal called on school districts to create a tiered system of teachers who would receive more compensation as they moved through the tiers and took on more administrative and mentoring responsibilities.

The House took the governor’s language and made it optional but held out a carrot to districts that adopted the model by offering an extra $305 per student.

The Senate version of the bill also adopted the governor’s language but included additional options for career ladders. It also called for an additional $400 per student allocation, regardless if school districts adopted a new career ladder.

“Certainly not enough schools are going to participate in the governor’s plan to make it a viable option,” said Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, asking Republicans to defend their objections to the Senate proposals.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said it’s not reform if one of the options is “keep what we have.”

Quirmbach said although there were no new proposals offered, he saw the move to policy talk — as opposed to funding — as progress.

“I think Senator Bowman is asking the right question,” Quirmbach said. “If you’re not going to go along, if you’re going to object to the options we are providing, please tell us why.”

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