April 2, 2013

Des Moines, Iowa

Gov. Terry Branstad's proposal for new education funding inched forward Monday in the General Assembly, as a Senate subcommittee took action that means the Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-controlled House could soon try to negotiate a compromise version of the bill.

Senators in an education subcommittee voted in favor of amending a House version of the bill to match the Senate proposal. If approved by the full Senate in the coming days, it will go back to the House for review, but committee chairman Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, says the bill will likely land in a joint conference committee for negotiations.

"I don't anticipate there will be anything substantive done until we jump through all the hoops and get to conference committee," Quirmbach said.

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.

Quirmbach said he was hoping to find compromise, but said the Democrats really couldn't budge on the 4 percent allowable growth.

"As far as I'm concerned, we don't have room to negotiate on that,"Quirmbach said. "I like a lot of the ideas in the bill. But I think 4 percent is absolutely crucial."

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, last week questioned whether the Senate version of the bill had enough accountability measures. But he said he was optimistic that there could be resolution on education.

Branstad said Monday that getting the Legislature to approve his education plan remains one of his top priorities for the session. An aide said he was optimistic that the Legislature would reach a bipartisan deal.