CEDAR RAPIDS — Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday brought his State of the State address on the road, focusing on educational reform, jobs and property-tax help for businesses.
Speaking at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in an event open to the public, Branstad told one questioner that his proposal to make sure every Iowa child can read by the end of the third grade will drastically reduce the number of students who drop out in high school.
“Students who don’t learn to read are five times more likely to drop out,” the governor said.
He said his program to transform Iowa from a home of good schools to world-class ones will begin with the push to improve how reading is taught in preschool, kindergarten and grades one through three.
Branstad said his educational reform program also proposes to pay starting teachers more and boost the pay of good teachers more quickly. He said he wants annual evaluations of teachers and administrators and he wants to free up principals to spend more time coaching teachers.
One questioner asked Branstad how he would achieve world-class schools while at the same time placing too-strict limits on school districts’ allowable funding growth. Branstad disagreed that he was imposing spending limits that were too onerous. He said that state funding for districts this year allows for 2-percent budget growth, adding “we just shouldn’t focus on that.”
Branstad said a key to keeping students in school was making school relevant to them, and he said expanding the ability of middle-school and high-school students to perform internships in the real world will help motivate them. He credited Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids with being a leading advocate for the program.
As for overhauling the state’s property-tax system, Branstad said he and leaders in both parties in the Legislature consider the long-discussed issue a priority this year.
He said his current plan is an improvement over his 2011 one, in that it eases reductions in commercial and industrial property taxes in over eight years instead of five and applies it to all businesses, existing and new ones. The plan also would reimburse local jurisdictions with state funds to offset drops in revenues from commercial and industrial property taxes.
The hope, he said, is that empty commercial spaces will attract more businesses to pay property taxes — the principal revenue source for local jurisdictions — if it is more attractive to locate in Iowa because of property-tax reductions.Currently, commercial and industrial property owners pay property tax on 100 percent of the value of their property while residential property owners in Iowa pay tax on a little less than half the value of their property. The disparity has helped fuel a call for change.