DES MOINES (AP) — Senate Democrats offered a new compromise on education policy Monday that would allow Iowa school districts to opt out of adopting new teacher pay policies, but the state senators did not agree to a revised system of teacher evaluations sought by House Republicans.
The proposal came after a week with little progress on Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed education overhaul. The Democratic-majority Senate and the Republican-controlled House have approved different versions and haven't been able to work out a final deal.
Branstad has proposed boosting teacher pay and providing leadership incentives. Democrats said Monday they would agree to make those changes optional for school districts — something that Republicans had been seeking. The Democrats also agreed to a new minimum teacher salary of $33,500, less than they originally sought.
Under the Democrats' offer, districts could choose not to implement the changes and not to accept the accompanying funding. Those districts choosing to participate would need to make only the changes they could afford.
“They don't have to take on any costs above and beyond what we compensate them for. They'll make it work as best they can with the dollars we give them,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
But Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he doesn't want to agree to the Republican-proposed teacher evaluation changes that would use student testing and other factors. He said Senate Democrats support the current system, which includes peer reviews.
Rep. Ron Jorgenson, a Republican from Sioux City who is chairman of the House Education Committee, said in an emailed press release that the offer wasn't good enough.
“Despite numerous efforts by House Republicans to find common ground on education reform, Senate Democrats have made little effort to compromise,” Jorgenson said. “The Senate Democrats continue to oppose accountability, innovation and parental choice.”
Branstad said at a press conference Monday that he wants the teacher evaluation changes in the final deal.
“We need to have accountability,” Branstad said. “If you look at other states that have passed accountability measures, they are moving ahead of us. I think House members feel very strongly that accountability measures have to be part of it.”
A spokesman for Branstad said the governor's staff members were reviewing details of the latest Democratic offer.
As the debate continues, schools are still waiting to see what lawmakers decide to provide in additional general funding for schools. Both sides have tentatively agreed to increases in the next two school years, but those numbers won't be finalized until the bill is worked out.
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