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Iowa GOP lawmakers offer education compromise

DES MOINES (AP) — House Republicans said Wednesday that they would agree to Democrats’ requests for bigger yearly increases in general funding for schools, if Senate Democrats agree to the House’s proposal for teacher salaries and incentives.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames who chairs the Senate education committee, said he would need time to review the House Republican proposal before saying if Democrats would accept the deal.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans have disagreed about how much to increase school funding and about how to implement Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed education overhaul that includes teacher salary increases and leadership incentives.

Under the overhaul approved by the House, districts could opt out of increases to minimum teacher salaries and financial incentives for teachers who take on extra responsibilities, though some funding would be tied to those. For the schools that participate, minimum teacher salaries would increase from $28,000 to $32,000.

The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, approved a plan that would increase minimum teacher salaries from $28,000 to $35,000, in line with what Branstad proposed. The pay hikes would be mandatory, and districts would also be required to choose from several options for a leadership incentive pay program.

Democrats also have been pushing for yearly 4 percent increases in general school funding, but Republicans have said they wouldn’t go above 2 percent. Democrats argued that schools needed 4 percent hikes to support teachers and programs.

Under the new offer from Republicans who control the House, school districts would get a 2 percent increase to general school funding in the upcoming school year plus a one-time payment equal to another 2 percent. In the following year, schools would get an additional 4 percent hike in basic funding.

Republican state Rep. Ron Jorgensen, of Sioux City, said the House offer was a good deal for Iowa schools. He insisted that if Democrats want the general funding, they must agree to the House plan.

“When there begins to be compromise with this language then the 4 percent allowable growth number may need to go down,” Jorgensen said. “We’d like to keep the two linked.”

Quirmbach said had serious reservations about the House plan, noting it allows districts to opt out.

“I do appreciate the public acknowledgment from House leadership that 4 percent and 4 percent is in fact needed by local school districts. I would, however, point out that we continue to believe there are substantial defects with the original House (bill),” Quirmbach said.

Branstad said he supports the offer.

“I think it’s a bold move and it’s a win-win,” Branstad said. “Sen. Quirmbach said the price of education reform is 4 percent and we met it. We’re just asking them to approve the education reform that we worked out and the House Republicans passed.”

The offer drew criticism from a staffer with the Iowa State Education Association, which represents about 34,000 teachers, support staff and other educators,

“The bright spot is they know 4 percent is necessary. But to say, ‘It’s our way or the highway,’ I think it’s just unreasonable at this point in the conversation,” said Melissa Peterson, a government relations specialist. “If you’re truly interested in student achievement, there ought to be discussions about the differences between the two proposals.”

The House funding proposal would not increase local property taxes. It would cost the state $133.1 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $128.1 in the following fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency.

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