Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has issued a warning to Senate Democrats and other opponents of K-12 education reform that blocking the passage of reforms will lead to political fallout.
"The people of Iowa will hold the Legislature — and, I would say, the Senate Democrats probably — accountable if they fail to take action," Branstad, a Republican, said during his weekly news conference Monday.
While Branstad's push for reforms has been largely supported by the Republican-controlled House, the Democrat –controlled Senate has been blocking and watering down reforms making it very hard for any legislation to be passed. While the Democrat's are against reforms such as an expansion to charter and online schools, presumably because the Unions consider these schools to be a way to bypass tenure via the backdoor, Governor Branstad has expressed concern that the current stalemate will result in the state failing to qualify for a No Child Left Behind exemption.
"The Senate bill was very timid and does not make really substantial reforms and doesn't give us the accountability that we need, I believe, even to get the waiver from No Child Left Behind," he said. "That won't do us any real good."
While Branstad had hoped for wide-ranging education reform and to be able to deal with the problem of tenure protecting bad or abusive teachers from being replaced, now sites have been set on simply achieving minimum standard to be granted the NCLB waiver.
Tenure has been a major point of contention between the two sides of the Senate this year with Republican Senator Pat Ward attacking the concept of tenure-based pay. He said that paying teacher according to how many years they had been in the job made no sense and also derided the idea that seniority is a good predictor of performance and a suitable determining factor in layoffs.
"In the private sector, most employers hire, fire and make layoff decisions based on a person's performance," Ward said. "Merit works."
The Senate is currently held 26-24 by the Democrats and the results of this year's elections in Iowa will largely determine the fate of education reform in the state.
Failure to move nearer to the House and governor's position could have election-year consequences, Branstad suggested.
"If the Senate just refuses to, we need to get a new Senate," he said.