DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad visited Des Moines’ North High School to sign his education reform package onstage in the school auditorium Monday as lawmakers, lobbyists and two dozen students looked on.
Branstad used terms such as “historic” and “transformational” to describe the legislation, which takes effect July 1, although he cautioned that it will take some time before results are evident.
“This is a key turning point in Iowa history,” he said. “Having good schools is no longer good enough.”
His signature was the final step in a more-than-two-year process of completing an education reform package that both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate could agree upon.
It was a process that, at times, seemed unlikely to bear fruit as lawmakers drew proverbial lines in the sand over issues such as school funding, home-school authority and teacher evaluations.
It devolved into ridiculousness, too, such as when the governor’s office released a YouTube video mocking Senate Democrats and when the conference committees picked to negotiate a deal stopped meeting and instead issued negotiating briefs through dueling news conferences.
Ultimately, however, the deal was made and the governor signed off on it.
The centerpiece is a new career path system for teachers that changes the way they will be promoted, paid and evaluated. School districts can choose from models that are outlined in the bill or create their own with approval from the state.
Adoption of a new career path is optional, but districts that do not choose it will not get the roughly $300 per student more in state money to pay for implementation of the program.
“I think this is big piece of legislation,” said Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, the lead negotiator for House Republicans who joined Branstad for the signing. “This is going to help us accomplish getting back to leading the country again in education.”
Outgoing Department of Education Director Jason Glass called the signing a “point for celebration but also a transition point for different work.”
He said the state has to pivot from pushing for reform legislation to carrying it out.
“We’ve already begun that transition at the department,” he said. “The state will have to stay on this path for the next several years to really implement with fidelity the legislation that was passed.”
Glass leaves at the end of the month to take over as superintendent of a school district in Colorado.
Branstad said he plans soon to appoint an interim director who will hold the job while the state conducts a nationwide search for the next education chief.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said setting aside money for the state’s new early reading initiative and money for class-size reduction grants were key victories for students that were negotiated this year.
Quirmbach was the lead negotiator for Democrats on the education reform bill. He said local school districts need to embrace the plan for it to be effective.
“If they will take ownership and embrace a new system as their own, then I think a new commitment for making it work will be 10 times higher than if they think this is something imposed on them from above,” he said. “That would be a route to failure.”