Branstad Looks to Place His Chips on Centralization of Education

Do you remember when Republicans used to be considered the party of local control?  I don’t think they can accurately be portrayed that way anymore, at least not when you look at the leadership within the party.  There has been a bipartisan assault at the federal level by former President George W. Bush with No Child Left Behind and President Barack Obama with Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards, dictating school lunch menus and portions and the No Child Left Behind waivers.  Unfortunately Mitt Romney doesn’t look like he’s going to be much better especially since he’s been getting his education policy advise from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who has been a Republican cheerleader of the Common Core State Standards.

States have, by and large, allowed this to happen.

At the state level it isn’t much better.  Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s track record on local control has been abysmal, and this upcoming legislative session look for more of the same.  He’s going to keep trying to push through the changes that didn’t get passed, and add teacher pay on top of that wish list.

For the record, I’m in favor of merit-based pay, I think the step and level pay system does not make sense, and it is a system that those of us who work in the private sector never see.  That said, I also understand how you determine a teacher’s “merit” will be tricky, complicated, and controversial.  What I don’t agree with is it being determined at the state level because of how complicated it will be.  There can’t be any one size fits all pay system model for every school district in Iowa.  When a couple of my colleagues and I graded Governor Branstad’s initial education blueprint in November of 2011 we wrote:

Although everyone agrees that all education boils down to the teacher’s ability to connect with and educate kids, we have reservations about a one-size-fits-all pay scale. We are concerned that it will further burden the state budget.We believe it further erodes local control because it allows for no variance or flexibility regardless of differences in cost of living between urban and rural settings. It also lacks evidence of efficacy. We cannot find compelling evidence that teacher pay, in and of itself, increases a single child’s test scores or overall academic achievement. Simply taking more money from taxpayers to pay teachers more without knowing that other reforms and increased choice will follow is an irresponsible diversion of public funds.

They tabled their four tier teacher pay plan before the legislative session, but plan to pick it up in some form even though we don’t know what it will look like.  Back in November, Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, said “We absolutely are not moving away from the principles that are behind that four-tier salary structure, but we also recognize that it’s a big change from a fiscal standpoint.  We think this is a conversation we need to engage in when we’re at the beginning of a two-year budget cycle, so we have all the chips to play with.”

This coming legislative session will be the beginning of a two year budget cycle and they’ll have “all the chips to play with.”  Expect them to go all in for more centralization in education.