Branstad Taking a Different Approach to Ed Reform in Iowa

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad appears to have learned some lessons from the 2012 rejection of his education reform package and plans to give education reform another try. After the Legislature, which remains mostly divided after the last election, failed to pass a majority of his reform proposals last year, Branstad vowed to take a different approach to reform bills this time around.

In large part that means changing the messenger. One of the measures that was passed last year was the creation of education reform task forces that looked at various part of Iowa's system to see where it might be improved. Thus, most of the policy proposals that will make it into the Branstad's 2013 reform plan came from those task forces rather than directly from the governor's office.

Contrast that to 2011 when the governor hosted a statewide summer summit, which was followed by a series of white papers and community meetings that outlined the upcoming legislation, and its cost, months before he dropped the actual bill in January 2012. Branstad offered a 156-page education reform package, but lawmakers passed a 26-page bill.

Now his top education officials say it's unlikely the governor will get into specifics before the Tuesday's "Condition of the State" address to the Legislature.

Among the things that might make the proposal more palatable this time around is the call for an increase in teacher pay as part of an overhaul of the faculty compensation system. The task force charged with studying the matter recommended an increase in pay for starting teachers from between $28,000 and $35,000 to somewhere between $40,000 and $45,000 with additional bonuses for those recruited to teach in shortage subjects like mathematics and science.

The task force members concluded that raising the starting salary – while also laying down possible career paths – would make the profession more attractive to promising college graduates. It could also work to keep well-performing teachers in the classroom longer instead of moving them into an administrative role in the district or the state education system.

Higher pay attracts better people," said Jeff Orvis, a mathematics and computer programming teacher at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. "But (the theory is) also sort of a slap in the face, like saying, ‘I'm not working hard, but now I'll work harder for more pay.'"

Orvis is skeptical of the idea that math, science and special ed teachers should make more than teachers of other subjects.

He added that different levels of pay might create divisions inside in the teachers' lounge by crafting an unofficial hierarchy that might damage working relationships between faculty members.

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