As a parent and grandparent, former teacher and school board member, I know there is no higher priority for the Legislature than ensuring we support and improve Iowa schools. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
I am proud of my record over the past seven years in the Iowa Senate of increasing the state's investment in teacher quality, student achievement and affordable higher education. By any measure, we have made great strides in each of those key education priorities.
At the same time, the 2009 session presented challenges as Republican and Democratic legislators attempted to balance the budget in the face a deepening national recession that has impacted every community and family in Iowa. Despite the economic downturn, legislators worked together to:
Maintain commitments to quality schools, affordable health care for Iowa children and Iowa-produced renewable energy.
Balance the budget without raising taxes.
I have heard from some educators who are disappointed that a portion of the state's education budget was cut during the final hours of the session. I share this disappointment and I know that we can do better next year.
At the same time, I want to remind everyone of the strides we have made in recent years. This includes:
Boosting our commitment to public education - The Legislature overwhelmingly approved $2.6 billion in basic state aid for Iowa schools. This is an increase of $87.4 million. In these tough economic times, we're keeping our commitment to improving student achievement by using federal stimulus dollars.
Keeping our promise to increase teacher quality - When it comes to improving student achievement, there is nothing more important than having the best possible teachers in Iowa classrooms. That's why the Legislature strongly supports the effort to recruit and keep the best teachers by raising the average pay of Iowa teachers to 25th in the nation.
For the first time, funding for teacher quality, professional development and class-size reduction are protected and assured funding. We won't again slip back to 42nd in the nation when it comes to teacher pay.
Iowa schools will receive $309 million in fiscal year 2010 for use in these teacher-specific areas. This means that a teacher at Fort Dodge Community School District will get on average $4,679 per year of these secured funds. That $4,679 far outweighs the $139 per teacher that Phase I provided. Here's what those numbers look like for other schools in my district:
East Greene Community School District will receive $5,022 per teacher, versus only $738 under Phase I.
Jefferson-Scranton Community School District will receive $4,566 per teacher, versus only $735 under Phase I.
Manson-Northwest Webster Community School District will receive $4,301 per teacher, versus only $880 under Phase I.
Paton-Churdan Community School District will receive $4,770 per teacher, versus only $2,150 under Phase I.
Prairie Valley will receive $4,552 per teacher, versus only $1,113 under Phase I.
Pomeroy-Palmer Community School District will receive $3,594 per teacher, versus only $829 under Phase I.
Rockwell City-Lytton Community School District will receive $3,951 per teacher, versus only $1,718 under Phase I.
Southeast Webster-Grand Community School District will receive $4,301 per teacher, versus only $1,228 under Phase I.
Raise student achievement through Iowa Core Curriculum
The Legislature took another big, bipartisan step when we adopted a model core curriculum during the 2008 session. Iowa's model core curriculum offers a rigorous and relevant classroom experience by helping teachers know "what" to teach and "how" to teach it.
Boosting educational opportunities by passing SILO
I am proud to support a historic initiative that expands educational opportunities for Iowa children and property tax relief for all Iowans. The 2008 legislation replaces the state's 1 cent local option sales tax for school infrastructure with a single statewide 1 cent sales tax to be shared among all school districts.
This means people living in small towns and rural communities help fund schools in large districts with large shopping areas. Some school districts receive almost $1,400 per pupil, while others get less than $600 per student. The quality of an Iowa student's education should not be based on the value of his or her parents' home. It isn't fair to students and their families. When fully implemented, every student in every school district will get the same amount from the statewide penny. This is a great deal for local communities, taxpayers and students.
All children can access quality preschool programs
The Legislature approved a four-year initiative to expand access to high-quality, voluntary preschool to all Iowa families. Previously, the Legislature created a sustainable funding mechanism for preschools and provided $30 million in funding over the last two years.This year, despite tough economic times, the Legislature showed its commitment to early childhood education by providing an $11.5 million increase in the Voluntary Statewide Preschool Program.
The benefits children receive from attending one of these high-quality preschools are obvious when they start kindergarten. They continue as children move toward graduation.
I am disappointed that the Phase I legislation came in the closing hours of the legislature when there was no time to confer with teachers in my district. We must do better in the future, as I have done in the past, by providing time necessary for input and insight.
The deepening national recession is expected to bring additional budget challenges to legislators during the 2010 session. I pledge to work hard to look for opportunities to fund key education initiatives so that parents, schoolchildren and educators are confident that Iowa schoolchildren have the opportunities they need to succeed.
Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, represents District 25 in the Iowa State Senate. He is a former political science teacher at Urbandale High School, served two terms on the Fort Dodge school board, has served on the Senate Education Committee all seven years in the Legislature and is one of four commissioners from Iowa on the Education Commission of the States.