Democrats, Republicans trade offers on education
DES MOINES (AP) — Senate Democrats and House Republicans rapidly traded education proposals Thursday, suggesting that a compromise deal might not be far off.
Early in the day, Democrats said they would accept an offer Republicans made last week to increase general school funding, but stressed that they still want to implement a Democratic proposal to boost teacher pay and offer leadership incentives to educators.
In response, Republicans said they wanted to keep their plan that makes salary increases and teacher incentives optional, but they said they would increase the minimum teacher salaries for schools that participate — though not to the level sought by Democrats.
Thursday was the most active day of talks in some time for lawmakers from the Senate, which is majority Democrat, and the Republican-controlled House who are debating basic school funding and how to implement Republican Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed education overhaul.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, said Democrats made a counteroffer Thursday because negotiations on education changes were not moving forward.
"It's been a little frustrating but we put on the table a counterproposal, which is what Republicans said that they wanted, so let's see where it goes from here," said Quirmbach, who chairs the Senate education committee.
Both sides agreed to last week's offer from House Republicans, in which school districts would get a 2 percent increase in 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. Quirmbach noted that the general funding offer is less than the yearly 4 percent funding increases sought by Democrats, but said they would accept those terms.
But Democrats and Republicans still are pushing different policy plans. Republicans want to allow districts to opt out of funding that would increase minimum teacher salaries and provide financial incentives for teachers who take on extra responsibilities. Democrats would make the pay hikes mandatory, and districts would also be required to choose from several options for a leadership incentive pay program.
Minimum teacher salaries in Iowa are currently $28,000. The Democrats want to raise them to $35,000, in line with Branstad's original proposal. Republicans originally sought to hike them to $32,000 for participating districts, but on Thursday said they would boost them to $33,500.
The two sides seemed closer on other items in the plan. Quirmbach said Senate Democrats would agree to House Republican language on online learning programs and efforts to recruit teachers. And both sides agreed to continue funding to reduce class sizes in early grades, though Republicans want to put a time limit on the funding.
Republican Rep. Ron Jorgensen, of Sioux City, who chairs the House education committee, said Republicans were hopeful they could resolve matters.
"At this point in time, this is what we feel would create a very meaningful offer," Jorgenson said.
Branstad has supported the House version of his plan. The governor's spokesman hailed the activity as a breakthrough in negotiations, which had slowed in recent days.
"Gov. Branstad supports the House Republican counteroffer, and hopes Senate Democrats will continue working with them to find compromise both parties in both chambers can support," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said.