Compromise on Iowa education funding may be near - Omaha.com
Published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:53 am
Compromise on Iowa education funding may be near

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 that 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 Democratic Party, and the GOP-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, chairman of 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 increase 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 are still 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 increases mandatory, and districts would also be required to choose from several options for a leadership incentive pay program.

Minimum teacher salaries in Iowa are $28,000. The Democrats want to raise them to $35,000, in line with Branstad’s original proposal. Republicans originally sought to increase 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.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, said Thursday that Democrats made a counteroffer because negotiations were not moving.

Lawmakers from the Democrat-majority Senate and Republican-controlled House have been debating school funding and how to implement Republican Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed education overhaul.

House Republicans said they would accept Democrats' requests for bigger yearly increases in general funding for schools if Senate Democrats agreed to House proposals making teacher salary increases and incentives optional for school districts.

But Quirmbach said the Senate is insisting on more money for salaries and incentives. Republicans said they needed time to review the offer.

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