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Democrats offer compromise education plan

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:30 p.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Senate Democrats offered a new compromise on education policy Monday that would allow school districts to opt out of adopting new teacher pay policies, but they did not agree to a revised system of teacher evaluations sought by House Republicans.

The proposal came after a week with little progress on Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed education overhaul. The Democratic-majority Senate and Republican-controlled House have approved different versions and haven’t yet been able to work out a final deal.

Branstad has proposed boosting teacher pay and providing leadership incentives. Democrats said Monday they’d agree to make those reforms optional for districts — something Republicans had been seeking. They also agreed to a new minimum salary number of $33,500, less than they originally sought.

Under the Democrats’ offer, districts could choose not to implement the reforms or take the accompanying funding. Those that choose to participate would only need to make the changes they could afford.

“They don’t have to take on any costs above and beyond what we compensate them for. They’ll make it work as best they can with the dollars we give them,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, who chairs the Senate education committee.

But Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he doesn’t want to agree to the Republican-proposed teacher evaluation changes that would use student testing and other factors. He said Senate Democrats support the current system, which includes peer reviews.

Rep. Ron Jorgenson, a Republican from Sioux City who chairs the House education committee, said in an emailed news release that the offer wasn’t good enough.

“Despite numerous efforts by House Republicans to find common ground on education reform, Senate Democrats have made little effort to compromise. The Senate Democrats continue to oppose accountability, innovation and parental choice,” Jorgenson said.

Branstad said at a news conference Monday that he wanted the teacher evaluation changes in the final deal.

“We need to have accountability,” Branstad said. “If you look at other states that have passed accountability measures, they are moving ahead of us. I think House members feel very strongly that accountability measures have to be part of it.”

A spokesman for Branstad said they were reviewing the details of the latest Democratic offer.

As the debate continues, schools are still waiting to see what lawmakers decide to provide in additional general schools funding. Both sides have tentatively agreed to increases in the next two school years, but those numbers won’t be finalized until the bill is worked out.