Iowa Close to Compromise Deal on K-12 Reform

Iowa’s looks set to pass a watered down compromise version of Governor Terry Branstad’s proposed education reforms. House and Senate leaders have apparently worked through the day Friday to hammer a working compromise into place before the end of the legislative session.

“Nobody’s going to get everything they wanted, but I think we’re going to have some significant things to put on the table,” said Ames Sen. Herman Quirmbach, the leading Democrat in the negotiations.

Branstad’s original package included an entire raft of reforms that would revolutionize the state’s testing regime in a way that would assess both student and teacher success. It would have heavily expanded online education and charter schools while placing an emphasis on improving early-grade literacy. However there was concern from Democrats and anti-reformists over the legitimacy of a plan to mandate the holding back of illiterate third graders and the usual, predictable fuss over introducing accountability for student success into teacher evaluations.

While it is currently unclear which elements of the reform package have been abandoned in the pursuit of compromise it is thought that most of the partisanly controversial measures have been neutered and that the most costly proposals were also axed.

“Part of the problem is the House Republicans don’t want to spend any money,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City and a member of the House-Senate conference committee. “You can’t really do ed reform without investing a little bit of money. That’s limiting what we can do.”

Republican’s deny that their fiscal conservatism is at fault for the neutered package:

“I’m not worried about the dollars right now, I’m just trying to get ironed out what can we agree on,” said Rep. Royd Chambers, R-Sheldon, and a lead negotiator on the compromise bill. “Can we bring a decent bill to the floor or not? We’ll worry about the appropriations later if we need to.”

The question of how to fund reforms was always likely to be contentious.

Governor Branstad recently warned that Senate Democrat’s blocking the much needed K-12 reforms risk losing their seats to an unhappy public protest vote come this year’s elections. Whatever form the compromise agreement finally takes, assuming it is forged, it seems incredibly unlikely at this stage that it will satisfying to the Governor. The future of Branstad’s education reform platform seems to lie securely on the results of the upcoming Senate elections. If the slim Democrat majority isn’t overturned, then judging from the current legislative session, significant education reform won’t be happening in Iowa anytime soon.