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Don’t be timid on education reform, Branstad tells Iowa lawmakers

James Q. Lynch, CR GAZETTE –

Be bold, Gov. Terry Branstad urged state legislators who, he said, “are watering down our aggressive education reform.”

“It’s not fair to our kids to be timid,” Branstad said Tuesday. “We should not be afraid to be bold and do good things that are going to dramatically improve education.”

He called House Education Committee action, including cutting 75 pages from his 156-page education reform package, a mistake, but said he’s hopeful when lawmakers vote “they will pass a bold education reform agenda.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Branstad is “the guy who was pretty timid.” Branstad’s plans cut funding for class-size reduction and staff development. “That’s a mistake,” Gronstal said.

Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, called the changes the Education Committee made part of lawmakers’ due diligence.

“I don’t think that we watered it down,” said Byrnes, who voted against Branstad’s plan in committee. “I think the Legislature has to be responsible and think this thing through.”

Committee members, including teachers and former teachers, come at education reform from a different perspective than the governor.

“That’s what you have to have – people who have been in the trenches taking a look at this, not just people up above taking a look at this,” he said.

Branstad, who returned Monday from the National Governor’s Association winter meeting, which included a meeting with President Obama, said at his weekly news conference he agrees with one of those people up above – President Obama — who is calling for education reform.

“The president pointed out we’ve slipped as a nation,” he said. “We’re not competing effectively for the really great jobs for the future if we don’t have good education. We need to make sure we are preparing our students for those jobs and that we have demanding and rigorous standards, that we have effective assessments aligned with it and we have a good evaluation system and that we are measuring how well our teachers are doing and making adjustments and changes there.”

“We put together a bold, comprehensive reform package and we’re appreciative that significant portions have emerged from committees,” Branstad said. As for the significant portions that have been deleted, “I think it is a mistake not to be bold and pass significant reforms this year.”

Being bold isn’t enough, added Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City.

“I think we sat down and looked at it as a joint committee and found lots of issues that have been brought up years and years ago that proven not to work,” she said. For example, Steckman and other Democrats on the Education Committee objected to ending promotion of third graders not reading at grade level.

“What we were looking at were some forward-looking measures like competency-based learning,” she said.

“If you’re going to be bold, you have to consider research-based results,” Steckman said. “You can’t be bold and just try something you think might work.”

Although he agreed the governor’s plan has been watered down, House Education Committee Chairman Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia said Branstad has to understand the version of his plan that came out of committee on a 12-11 vote reflects current political reality.

“That indicates how difficult it was to put together the votes necessary,” he said.

Education reform is too important to get caught up in the politics of the session, Branstad said.

“Iowa has waited way too long while other states have passed bold and significant initiatives,” he said. “We haven’t, and we’re paying a price for that.”

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