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Education policy bill likely moving to negotiation

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 11:14 a.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — The Senate took steps Wednesday to move an education policy proposal aimed at improving Iowa schools to a negotiating committee.

The Democratic-majority Senate voted 26-24 in a party-line vote to amend a House version of the bill to match the Senate proposal. The bill will now go back to the Republican-controlled House, with the expectation that it will soon move to a joint conference committee for negotiations.

“We’re not yet at the end point but we’re getting closer. It will eventually go to conference committee where I am optimistic we can work out our differences,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who chairs the Senate education committee.

The Senate and the House have developed different versions of Branstad’s $187 million plan to improve Iowa schools. Branstad proposes boosting minimum teacher salaries from $28,000 to $35,000 and providing incentive pay to teachers who take on extra responsibilities.

Lawmakers in the House watered down the plan in February, approving a version that would lower the salary minimums to $32,000 and allow districts to opt out of the salary hikes and leadership pay. But the Senate last week approved a plan that would put the salary minimums back at $35,000 and require districts to choose from several options for a leadership incentive pay program.

The Senate plan also would provide more basic funding to schools. Their bill would offer a 4 percent general 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.

Branstad said this week that getting the legislature to approve his education plan remains one of his top priorities for the session.