Only one week into the 2013 legislative session, Gov. Branstad's proposed bill to reform Iowa's education system is already generating discussion. In the 157-page bill, Branstad focuses on changing four key areas of the education system: teacher compensation and career development, recruitment of educated professionals to become teachers, the "career or college ready" seal and online learning opportunities for students.
A new incentive program for teachers may be a step towards providing a better education for Iowa students, according to Gov. Branstad. As a part of his education reform bill proposed to legislators, education students could earn up to $20,000 towards their student loans.
"We want to get good, educated people into teaching positions," Rep. Megan Hess (R-Spencer) said. "It's especially hard to get teachers in science, math, and technology. They're being recruited into business and engineering."
While business and engineering may, in some instances, be more stable, Branstad has proposed to offer students in the top 25 percent of their class $4,000 each year for up to five years.
"It's a nice incentive that can attract more people into the education field," Spencer Superintendent Terry Hemann said.
He continued, "I don't know if it will have an effect in rural areas. It's harder for smaller schools to attract the same pool of candidates that an urban area will."
Another component of the bill offers opportunity for those not previously in education to become licensed teachers and administrators.
According to the bill, a person "in business; industry; local, state, or federal government; or the military service of the United States" may be qualified for an "initial" teacher or administrator's license.
In order to become a licensed teacher, they would have to hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree from a "regionally accredited postsecondary institute and 24 postsecondary credit hours in the content area." To teach a foreign language, they would have to also be a native speaker of the language.
In order to qualify, they would have to pass a background check, have at least three years of "consecutive ... successful, relevant work experience" and pass a basic skills test.
To become an initial administrator, the person would have to hold a bachelor's degree and pass a background check.
They would have to "be supervised and mentored by a person who holds a valid professional administrator license" for the first three years of their employment.
An administrator would also need five recent years of successful management experience.
A "professional educator" who has had five years of "successful, relevant experience" may also qualify for the administrator license.
"I'm supportive of doing something with schools, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and sending students along those career paths," Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyeden) said. "It's the key to economic development and it's important to the future of the state."
"Quite honestly," Hemann said, "to be in the middle of a career and to have to go all the way back would be difficult for most people."
To become an administrator, however, Hemann suggested that a background in education is the most beneficial.
"If we want our administrators to be educational leaders, they need to have educational experience," he said.
Specifically, he noted, "principals need to have teaching experience."
He continued, "If it's a large district, such as 25,000 students, you do have some staff that could come from a different field."
"Our smaller schools have excellent education programs and great graduation rates," Johnson said. "The goal still is to raise the special skill sets - such as in STEM - and we need to do that. Northwest Iowa schools are doing a good job."