Senator Bob Dvorsky On Education

Dvorsky ReportIowa is among the first states to create a teacher leadership system designed to boost student achievement, increase teaching expertise and raise the status of the teaching profession.

Research shows a correlation between a school’s ability to keep good teachers and student achievement. Iowa’s 2013 Education Reform initiative rewards effective teachers with more responsibility and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive salaries and opportunities for advancement, and encourages greater collaboration among all educators.

Under the Teacher Leadership & Compensation System, 25 percent of teachers will take on new leadership roles—including serving as instructional coaches and mentors—to improve the classroom experience. Districts that apply to start teacher leadership systems must set goals, establish minimum teacher salaries, mentor new teachers and have a rigorous selection process for leadership roles.

Teacher leadership systems are being phased in over three years, with the goal of all Iowa school districts participating on a voluntary basis by 2016-17.

The Iowa Legislature approved $50 million for the first year of the program and $100 million for the second year. The third year will see a $150 million investment. Money for teacher leaders, however, was never intended to supplant other K-12 educational funding.
The Teacher Leadership & Compensation System and other targeted investments in STEM, building strong reading skills and providing more learning opportunities through online schools are great tools. However, they are not a replacement for basic school funding from the state. If we don’t provide adequate dollars to support the daily needs of our schools, they will have more students and less staff.

For example, one Iowa district will have to make about $300,000 in cuts with the minimal school funding approved for this fall. That will significantly diminish the impact of the $340,000 the district will receive in teacher leader grants.

We must provide a strong foundation for schools to build upon. That way, the teacher leadership program can effectively prepare our students for higher education, worker training and good jobs in a competitive global economy.

Our local school districts selected for the teacher leader program include:

School District    Starting In
Iowa City – 2015-16
North Cedar – 2015-16
Solon – 2015-16
West Branch – 2015-16
Wilton – 2015-16
Bennett – 2016-17
Durant – 2016-17
Lisbon – 2016-17
Midland – 2016-17
Tipton – 2016-17
Mount Vernon – 2016-17

As summer ends, teachers and students are preparing to head back to the classroom. So am I—through America’s Legislators Back to School Program.

I am setting up my schedule of school visits and am excited to go “back to school.” Please contact me if you are interested in having me come to your school.

The Back to School Program is designed to teach young people—the nation’s future voters and leaders—what it’s like to be a state legislator, and it gives me the chance to meet personally with young constituents and to answer questions, share ideas and listen to concerns.

The program engages students and gives them an understanding of democracy. Every year, more than 1,400 state lawmakers visit an estimated 320,000 students in their classrooms. I’ve visited class rooms all over my senate district and hope to visit more this year. Trying to bring civics to life for students is one of my favorite parts of being a senator.

As a new school year gets under way, I know teachers, staff, administrators and school boards will provide great educational opportunities for our students. However, they’ll face a challenge because funding is much less than they expected.

Iowa education funding has fallen behind the increasing investments made by other states. We’re now in the bottom third of states for K-12 per-pupil funding, investing $1,612 less per student than the national average.

We planned to reverse that trend this year, until Governor Branstad’s last-minute veto of a bipartisan compromise. Now our K-12 schools will be out $56 million that they’d hoped to use this fall for updated textbooks, computers, lab equipment and other teaching tools.

Here’s what our local school districts are missing out on:
Bennett – $21,223
Durant – $64,405
Iowa City – $1,486,381
Lisbon – $75,903
Midland – $58,773
Mount Vernon – $119,586
North Cedar – $96,345
Solon – $144,333
Tipton – $99,546
West Branch – $89,386
Wilton – $86,531

A recent poll shows the majority of Iowans oppose the Governor’s veto. They know Iowa has enough money to make the necessary investments in our students and schools while balancing the state budget responsibly. The state’s nonpartisan Revenue Estimating Conference projects state revenues will grow by 6 percent this year. In addition, we have a budget surplus of more than $300 million and almost $700 million in our reserve funds, the largest amount in state history.

Years of not helping our schools keep up with the cost of inflation is taking its toll. The loss of funds this year is resulting in staff layoffs, program cuts, larger class sizes and higher property taxes.

Senate Democrats are committed to making Iowa schools No. 1 again. We respect the work of teachers, administrators and school board members, and will fight again next session for the kind of increase that Iowa students deserve. We need to ensure that Iowa’s next generation will be at a competitive advantage when it comes to education and job opportunities.

Keeping college affordable allows more Iowans to get the education and skills they need to find good jobs. It creates a positive cycle that helps our state attract the types of businesses and jobs to strengthen our middle class and grow our economy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said that college grads earn 66 percent more than those with a high school diploma. By 2020, about two thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education. Yet college is more expensive than ever, increasing at alarming rates in recent decades and burdening students with massive debt.

Affordable tuition for those willing to study hard and work hard is a smart approach to strengthening Iowa’s middle class, keeping our workforce competitive and building a high-skill, high-wage economy. Iowa students have proven they are willing to do their part. Studies show that they have a much better college graduation rate than the nation as a whole.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that Governor Branstad vetoed funding to make college and career training more affordable.

The role of community colleges is growing, as they work closely with local businesses to reduce Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers. They’re the first place many Iowans go for higher education, job training and better career opportunities. An increase of $2.5 million this year was meant to keep community college tuition affordable. The Governor’s veto is a loss for students at Kirkwood and Eastern Iowa community colleges.

We also proposed to freeze tuition for a third consecutive year at Iowa’s public universities. But Governor Branstad’s veto of almost $8.8 million is expected to result in a mid-year tuition hike at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. That’s a bad move when you consider that about 63 percent of Iowa’s state university graduates in 2013 had student loan debt, averaging $28,293 per student, according to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

Students fared better at Iowa’s private colleges and universities, including Cornell College in nearby Mount Vernon. A boost in the Iowa Tuition Grant will ensure students can afford the education that’s right for them. To qualify, a student must be an Iowa resident, attend an independent, non-profit college or university, and demonstrate financial need. The Iowa Tuition Grant represents about 1 percent of all state funding for education, but it helped more than 14,000 Iowa students last year and generated almost $450 million in financial aid awards from the schools.

For more on grants, scholarships and other help to pay for college, go to

This entry was posted in Education, Iowa Legislature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.