Iowa Policy Changes Would Range From Pre-K Through High School

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Education took center stage in Iowa’s 2006 legislative session, resulting in measures to boost teacher salaries, start a pilot program that bases teacher pay on student achievement, expand preschool, and establish statewide graduation requirements.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, is expected to sign the measures, which include goals he had outlined in January. He is “very pleased” with the session, said Jennifer L. Mullin, a spokeswoman for the governor, who has 30 days from the May 4 end of the session to sign the measures.

Much of the legislation closely followed recommendations released in January by the Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce, a nonprofit organization formed by the Iowa legislature last year to help the Hawkeye State regain its prominence as a national leader in student achievement.

In its report, the organization noted that 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell from first in the United States in 1992 to 19th in 2005. The group recommended bolstering teacher pay, crafting state standards for student learning, and tying teacher pay, at least in part, to student performance, said Marvin Pomerantz, a business leader who co-chaired the panel. The final legislation “touched virtually every recommendation,” he said.

State spending on pre-K-12 education for fiscal 2007 will rise by 5.7 percent, to $2.3 billion. The general fund budget is $5.3 billion.

A cornerstone of the package is the plan to raise teacher pay, which has slipped to 41st in the nation from 34th ten years ago. The legislation would raise state aid for salaries by $35 million a year through fiscal 2009, for a total of $210 million in extra spending over three years.

Much of that money would be used to improve base pay for teachers. Next year’s increase would raise the minimum teacher salary from $24,500 to $25,500, according to an Iowa House of Representatives aide.

Advocates for Iowa’s teachers applauded the move, but say they worry that the legislature will not follow through next year.

Brad Hudson, the lobbyist for the 32,000-member Iowa State Education Association, a National Education Association affiliate, noted that lawmakers made similar promises to raise teacher pay in 2001, but that those increases never fully materialized.

Paying for Performance

Speaker of the House Christopher C. Rants, a Republican, said GOP lawmakers, who narrowly control the lower chamber, agreed to the increase because the state has been losing good teachers to places with higher pay.

But he added that Republicans wanted to tie some of the money to policy changes. “It wasn’t just a matter of putting more cash in the system,” the speaker said, pointing to the pilot program that bases pay partly on student achievement.

Under the measure, a panel would decide how to distribute the $7.5 million in total funds slated for the program in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. New legislation would be required to expand the project statewide.

Sen. Michael W. Connolly, a Democrat and former teacher who co-chairs the education committee in Iowa’s evenly divided Senate, said the pay-for-performance language was part of a compromise to garner Republican support for the pay increase. He said he was not sure whether the program would move beyond the pilot stage.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were more supportive of a $3.4 million proposal to allow districts to spend part of the funding boost on “market based” pay, to help attract educators for high-need subjects, such as mathematics, and for hard-to-staff districts.

Preschool Program

The legislature also enacted Iowa’s first statewide graduation requirements. Starting with the class of 2011, Iowa students will have to take at least four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies to earn a high school diploma. The measure leaves it up to local districts to decide the specific course requirements.

Lawmakers also built upon a program, recommended by the Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce and championed by Gov. Vilsack, aimed at improving preschool education. An increase of more than $15 million over last year’s $25.8 million would provide about $5.5 million to help families pay for preschool and $3.5 million to enhance the quality of preschool programs.

Vol. 25, Issue 37, Page 20

Published in Print: May 17, 2006, as Iowa Policy Changes Would Range From Pre-K Through High School
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