Although Iowa Governor Terry Branstad seemed to warm up last week to increasing education funding, he was still making a serious effort at reform a prerequisite for any discussions about additional money. Last Friday, Branstad said that getting a reform proposal nailed down should be legislators' top priority, and only once a decision is made on that should they take up the question of additional state aid.
Branstad's education reform proposal carries a price tag of $187 million dollars over five years, but the pace of adoption appears to be slow. Only $17 million of that has been allocated for the first year, with most of that earmarked for increases in teacher pay.
Branstad appeared to be concerned that legislators will never get around to discussing reform if they first battle over school aid.
"And the history of the Legislature is they'll spend all their time fighting over money instead of passing the substantive reform policies that we need," he said.
Although Branstad was adamant that reform must come first, it appears that the Iowa Senate, which has a Democratic majority, is set to debate the issue of money anyway – without Branstad's blessing if it comes to that. The Senate's proposal calls for additional $130 million in education per-student spending in addition to the final number the lawmakers arrive at once the reform discussions are concluded.
After talking up his education reform ideas, Branstad took the opportunity to give his views on the gun rights debate – an issue much in the news since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Branstad pointed out that he was a strong supporter of individual's right to own a gun and said that people who are looking to curb violence by restricting gun ownership are looking at the problem the wrong way. In the end, he didn't expect any kind of significant gun control legislation to hit his desk any time soon.
"I believe in protecting individual rights," Branstad said. "I also think the issues of violence in the schools can best be addressed by things like the bullying prevention summit that we had and the reform that we're doing of the mental health system to try and identify and help people with mental problems."
Branstad, one of the US's most aggressive governors on education reform, still refuses to commit himself to his plans for the 2014 election. If he has decided to seek reelection, he is keeping that decision close to his vest.
He couldn't resist a jab at Rep. Bruce Braley, one of the Democrats reportedly considering a bid for the office.
"Ask him the last time a congressman was elected governor in this state," he said, just after taping the program.
Branstad, an avid historian, said he couldn't think of one.