From capstone to millstone
Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa was looking for an education capstone to his 16 years as the Hawkeye State's chief executive.
But the school bill that the governor had so ardently desired turned out to be a stumbling block instead.
In fact, Mr. Branstad's May 8 veto of major portions of that measure has locked the four-term Republican in a stalemate with leaders of his own party and exposed both sides to charges that they care more about politics than schoolchildren. GOP lawmakers concede the situation is a mess.
"The governor is holding schools and some of the money hostage" over his dissatisfaction with the measure, Brent Siegrist, the Senate majority leader, contended in an interview.
Mr. Branstad, who will leave office next January, has threatened to call a special legislative session to get more of what he wants in an education bill. He is particularly committed to a strengthened merit-pay provision for teachers. But all indications are that the governor does not yet have the votes to get his way in a special session. Nor have Republican leaders found the two-thirds majority they need to override his veto.
Last week, Mr. Branstad's spokesman, Eric Woolson, deemed "nonsense" the notion that the governor is holding funds hostage. "The legislature has the power to address that issue; they can work with the governor to achieve meaningful reform," he said.
The impasse has left many of the state's school advocates disgruntled. The sections of the education package that Mr. Branstad didn't veto represent less than $7 million of the original $24 million of proposed improvements.
Mr. Branstad, the current chairman of the Education Commission of the States, vetoed $4 million for districts with growing enrollments, $2.4 million to help districts with declining enrollments, $2 million to help districts with special levies earmarked for schools, and $9 million in block grants to improve primary school programs.
He left intact $5.2 million for early-childhood programs and money to raise minimum starting salaries for teachers to $23,000 a year, two provisions stemming from the recommendations of a commission the governor convened last year. Other commission recommendations, including a call for the beginnings of a state accountability system for schools, never got serious consideration in the legislature.
--BESS KELLER [email protected]
Vol. 17, Issue 38, Page 13