Iowa passes education reform bill


Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad wraps up 2015 legislative action with vetoes to one-time funding for education and a plan to reopen mental health facilities in the state.

Natalie Williams

The Iowa house representatives passed an education reform bill that Gov. Terry Branstad said will put Iowa on the fast track to have the number one schools in the nation.

A raise in salary for starting teachers, 2 percent allowable growth for the next year and a state sponsored Internet-based education program are just a few of the major things the bill includes.

Herman Quirmbach, chair of the Legislature’s Education committee, said the bill’s theme, drafted by the governor, is recruiting, retaining and developing the teacher core.

The bill also raises the starting salary for teachers from $28,000 to $32,000.

“We see too many teachers leaving the profession for higher pay in other work, enter into administration or leave our state for additional pay in other states,” said Mike Cormack, legislative liaison for the Iowa Department of Education.

The bill also implements a statewide online learning program, which Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said isn’t new. The state legislator said that the state has never put much money behind the program, but she is glad they are now.

“It’s a good idea. This will offer more classes to smaller schools,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

A new concept introduced in the bill is the “Certificate of Distinction.” Cormack explained that the certificate would be placed on a transcript of a high school student who proved they were college or career ready.

Wessel-Kroeschell said that this would not affect students entering college, and the board of regents would not accept the certification into their standards for acceptance. She also said that the explanation of this certification was very “unclear.”

The bill will now move to a committee where it will be worked on by Iowa senate officials and then introduced to the Senate for a vote. Quirmbach said that he expects there to be house and senate negotiations.

Allowable growth, a hot topic on this bill, will have to be negotiated. While Branstad proposed a 0 percent allowable growth, the house approved the allowable growth at 2 percent.

The Senate has said they would like allowable growth to be at 4 percent.

House representative Curtis Hanson said allowable growth won’t be the only amendments made to the bill. “There will be a lot of changes, the bill will probably be rewritten,” Hanson said.

Wessel-Kroeschell predicts the senate will cut the bill down a lot. She said she hopes that the senate rewrites the bill as well.

“If we funded the programs we have we would have the possibility to make headway and benefit our schools,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Quirmbach, a member of the senate working on this bill, said they are trying to keep as much of the governor’s bill as possible. The bill must be out of committee by March 8 for it to be voted on in the Senate, Quirmbach said.

“We are working very hard and are very hopeful about good legislation,” Quirmbach said.

After five hours of debate, the house approved the bill Feb. 20, in a 52-44 decision.