Iowa legislature approves scaled-back education reform

The Iowa Senate and House approved a conference committee agreement on education reform yesterday with bipartisan support in both chambers.

Bleeding Heartland discussed here the key differences between the education reform bills passed by the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate. The following conference committee members hashed out a compromise version of this legislation: State Representatives Royd Chambers (R), Cecil Dolecheck (R), Greg Forristall (R), Mary Mascher (D), Sharon Steckman (D), and State Senators Herman Quirmbach (D), Tod Bowman (D), Brian Schoenjahn (D), Nancy Boettger (R), and Shawn Hamerlinck (R).

The final text of Senate File 2284 isn’t on the Iowa legislature’s website yet. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa that the bill gives parents “two options if their child completes third grade, but cannot read at a third grade level”: either have their child repeat the third grade or take an intensive reading course the summer between third and fourth grade. That policy will be imposed for the 2016/2017 academic year; extra funding for reading instruction in the early grades will take effect beginning in the 2013/2014 school year. In addition,

The bill limits enrollment in the two Iowa school districts that are conducting all classes on the Internet and calls for a study of such on-line academies.

It means CAM Schools in Anita and Clayton Ridge in Guttenberg will have no more than 900 students. […]

Legislators also decided against having all 11th graders take the ACT and rejected the governor’s call to require all college students seeking a teaching degree maintain a three-point grade average. Republican-led efforts to end the “last hired, first fired” aspect of schoolhouse layoffs were unsuccessful. Governor Branstad has said he wants the 2013 Iowa legislature to tackle teacher pay issues and consider other education reform ideas.

Henderson posted links to the audio of yesterday’s Iowa House and Senate remarks on Senate File 2284.

The Senate voted first on the conference committee report, and the roll call is in the Senate Journal for May 8 (pdf). All 26 Democrats voted for the education reform bill, joined by five Republicans: Merlin Bartz, Hubert Houser, Nancy Boettger, James Seymour, and Pat Ward. (Side note: I expect that Ward’s conservative primary challenger in Iowa Senate district 22, Jeff Mullen, will criticize this vote.)

The following 15 Senate Republicans voted against the bill: Bill Anderson, Randy Feenstra, David Johnson, Kent Sorenson, Rick Bertrand, Bill Dix, Joni Ernst, Sandy Greiner, Jim Hahn, Shawn Hamerlinck, Smith, Jack Whitver, Steve Kettering, Tim Kapucian, and Brad Zaun. Four Republicans were absent: Rob Bacon, Paul McKinley, Jerry Behn, and Mark Chelgren.

Shortly thereafter, the House passed Senate File 2284 by 87 votes to nine (roll call in this pdf file). These state representatives voted against the education reform: Republicans Dwayne Alons, Betty De Boef, Jarad Klein, Kim Pearson, Jason Schultz, and Tom Shaw, joined by Democrats Lisa Heddens, Roger Thomas, and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell. Four House members were absent: Republican Rich Anderson and Democrats Pat Murphy, Kevin McCarthy, and Jerry Kearns. All the other state representatives supported the bill, including everyone in the House Republican leadership.

I am seeking comment on whether Governor Terry Branstad will sign Senate File 2284. I assume he will, because he has previously indicated that he will accept what progress can be made this year on education reform. At the same time, the governor has criticized Senate Democrats for passing what he called a “watered down” bill. Branstad’s education reform blueprint was much more ambitious. UPDATE: Branstad’s communications director Tim Albrecht said the governor needs to review the bill in its final form before deciding whether to sign it.

I’m glad legislators agreed to limit the online academies run by for-profit corporations. The compromise on third-grade retention sounds reasonable. Putting serious money and effort behind early intervention and reading remediation will be key to making that work.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Jason Noble mentioned more details about the final bill:

For teachers, the bill requires annual performance reviews – rather than every three years – although two of the three will be peer reviews conducted by fellow teachers.

Dropped from the bill are many of the testing requirements originally sought by the governor and initially favored by the Republican-led House. Earlier versions of reform mandated end-of-course exams that would factor into high-school graduation; ACT or career-readiness testing for high-school juniors, pre-kindergarten testing; and various other tests that would have been used to measure teacher performance and compare Iowa students’ performance against students from other countries.

LATER UPDATE: Branstad signed this bill on May 25. Excerpt from his signing letter:

I recognize this is a first step toward improving the quality of education in Iowa. Bold reform is still needed, including strengthening the role of teachers as instructional leaders with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

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