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Senate education measure follows Branstad’s plan

DES MOINES (AP) — Not long after House Republicans scaled back the governor’s education plan by making several key components optional, Democrats in the Senate have beefed it up again with language mandating more teacher pay and leadership programs.

The revamped plan increases the minimum teacher salary to $35,000 and offers several options to school districts on how to set up the leadership system, which the House plan had made optional. It also provides more overall funding for Iowa schools.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Herman Quirmbach of Ames, on Tuesday noted that he and other Democrats support much of the Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s original $187 million education proposal.

“Our vision is the same as the governor on this. Through professional development, through mentoring and teachers working with one another to improve their craft, that’s key to improving instruction in the classroom,” Quirmbach said.

Under the Senate bill, which was introduced Monday and is set for hearings this week, school districts would be required to set up programs to provide additional compensation to teachers who take on more work outside the classroom, such as mentoring or career coaching.

It also includes a peer-review process for teachers and a pilot program to provide additional funding to schools with a high number of students living in poverty. Quirmbach said a cost estimate for the proposal drafted in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, had not been completed.

Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a pared-down version of the plan by setting minimum teacher salaries at $32,000 and allowing school districts to opt-out of providing salary increases or establishing the teacher leadership system.

Branstad’s spokesman said in an email Tuesday that the governor would review the Senate plan.

Branstad had expressed support for the House bill, but at his weekly press conference Monday, before the Senate proposal was released, Branstad said he’d like to see the teacher minimum salaries go back to $35,000.

“The higher the beginning salary, the more attractive the profession,” Branstad said.

On the issue of ongoing general school funding, the Senate plan offers a 4 percent funding increase to school districts for the 2013-2014 school year, and another 4 percent in the 2014-2015 school year. That’s more than the 2 percent increases approved by the House. Branstad did not include any general funding increases in his budget, saying he wanted to first act on his education plan.

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents about 34,000 teachers, support staff and other educators, said she was encouraged that the Senate bill would require districts to raise salaries and participate in the leadership programs.

“I think the idea that we would make raising teacher minimum salaries optional is crazy. One district can raise a minimum and another one doesn’t have to,” Cobb said Tuesday. She said the ISEA was still reviewing the bill, but preferred it to the House version.

The distance between the House and Senate proposals means the legislation will likely end up in a conference committee, where lawmakers from both chambers try to hammer out a compromise. It’s unclear where Branstad will fall in that negotiation, though Quirmbach noted that the version in the Senate looks a lot more like Branstad’s original plan.

“I have said all along, and member of my conference have said all along, that we like a lot of the governor’s ideas,” Quirmbach said. “I think in terms of starting salary, in terms of requiring school districts to do something along these lines, our bill is closer to the governor’s original bill than the House bill.”

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