Despite receiving the exact funding increases they asked for, Iowa Senate Democrats are balking at the education reforms offered by the Iowa House Republicans. The Democrats have reneged on what they agreed to last month.
“The price for education reform is 4 and 4,” Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) said on March 6. Quirmbach is the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
The “4 and 4” refers to the percentage of growth school districts can budget for. Originally, House Republicans offered 2% for 2014. The Senate Democrats proposed 4%. Governor Branstad wanted the legislature to pass education reforms before they determined the allowable growth.
However, earlier this week, Republicans agreed to a compromise. They would go along with the Democrats’ request for a 4% increase for the next two years, on the condition that the senate accepts the education reforms suggested by Governor Branstad.
“This is all they’ve wanted to talk about,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha). “We found a way to get to where they said was their line in the sand. But we also believe that reforms are critical.”
However, Senator Quirmbach quickly dismissed the compromise.
“The House Republicans have put forward a good faith proposal,” said Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock). “And what’s really troubling about this is this morning, just a few short hours after that proposal’s been on there, Senator Quirmbach steps up and just discounts it out of hand. He is speaking for and providing leadership for the senate Democrat caucus with apparently no real concern for finding quality resolutions for the students of Iowa. That’s what’s really troubling.”
Republicans in the legislature believe Senator Quirmbach is not conducting himself in an honest and professional manner. Rep. John Landon (R-Ankeny) accuses Quirmbach of providing misinformation about the House Republicans’ proposal in a letter sent to superintendents across the state.
“He mischaracterizes early childhood development programs and the way that we pay for those as a removal, and he characterizes our offer as 1% less than it actually is,” Landon said. “It has confused the issue with superintendents and school boards. I think it’s a disingenuous attempt.”
The compromise proposed by Republicans met with the approval of the Iowa Association of School Boards, the School Administrators of Iowa and the Urban Education Network. Rep. Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) said several groups were supportive of Governor Branstad’s initial plan.
“The only people that we against it were the teachers’ unions and AFSCME,” Highfill said.
“We think this plan offers flexibility to the school districts,” Paulsen said. “There’s school accountability for the parents and protection for taxpayers. We obviously hope the Senate Democrats give this serious consideration and we hope we can put this one pretty significant piece of legislation behind the General Assembly for this session.”
School districts around the state need to certify their budgets by this Monday, April 15. It is clear that, despite the best attempts by Republicans, the legislature will not have an agreement on this issue by then.
“We have to move this issue forward,” Rep. Landon said. “This is why we serve. This is why we’re here. Let’s get this done. This is a good bill. What is their proposal?”
“The ball’s in their court now,” Highfill added.
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