Iowa House approves bill to benefit teachers’ salaries

By Josh Betts 2007

With a vote of 90-7, on Thursday, April 5, the Iowa House endorsed a bill in favor of increasing teacher pay over the next two years.

The bill will provide an extra $70 million for teacher salaries for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and $75 million the following fiscal year. The bill now must go back to the Iowa Senate for a vote due to the amendments made by the Iowa House.

If this passes, the state of Iowa will spend $141 million for teacher pay and benefits during the 2007-2008 school year, and $232 million the next year. For this upcoming fiscal year, Iowa teachers will see an extra $3,600 in their paychecks. The year after that, Iowa teachers will see another $5,400 raise through this bill. If passed by the Iowa Senate, Iowa Governor Chet Culver is expected to sign the measure when it hits his desk, and it is just a step to move Iowa up the ladder of teacher pay rankings in the U.S.

“I am optimistic the legislature will increase teacher pay this session,” Culver said. “Both Republicans and Democrats understand how important it is to keep our excellent teachers here in Iowa, so I am confident this bill will receive bipartisan support.”

According to the 2004 Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends by the American Federation of Teachers, Iowa ranked 42nd in the nation in teacher pay, something that Culver wants to change.

“I believe we have excellent teachers in Iowa, and they deserve an increase in pay,” Culver said. “We have promised over and over again to get their pay to the national average, and I proposed a budget in January that takes the first step to getting Iowa teacher’s pay to 25th in the nation. We can’t have our teachers leaving to teach in other states that pay their teachers more than we do here, which is why it is so critical we fulfill our promise to raise their pay.”

A contact was made to Republican Representative Tami Wiencek of Waterloo, but was not returned.

The national average for teacher pay according to the 2004 Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends was $46,597 for an experienced teacher, and $31,704 for a starting salary. In the state of Iowa, the average salary was $38,381.

Another difficulty that the state of Iowa has experienced with it’s teacher pay being below the national average is college education graduates moving out of state to earn more money. Culver said he believes in first time homebuyer mortgage assistance and loan forgiveness for teachers willing to teach in areas of need, and as way to keep graduates in the state.

State Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, said there are ways to keep college education major graduates in the state.

“We could help student loans if teachers agree to work in shortage areas,” Danielson said. “We could offer incentives for advanced degrees so they can progress faster in their careers than in other states, and we can offer a health care plan for teachers and their families to help with the skyrocketing costs of health care. The bottom line is there are many ways we can offer teachers a compelling reason to stay in Iowa—but the ability to earn a decent wage is a priority.”

While keeping teachers in the state is a top objective of legislators, the fact remains that many other professions around the country pay more than a teaching job does. In 2004, accountants in the U.S. on average made $9,505 more than teachers, assistant professors made $3,198 more than teachers and attorneys made $43,392 more than teachers.

While raising teacher pay is a hot-button issue, a new method of raising teacher pay has been proposed in some states, and that is the issue of performance-based, or merit, pay. Merit pay frequently makes students’ scores on standardized tests a determining factor as to whether teachers would get a raise.

Several districts in certain states have implemented merit-based pay plans for their teachers. In 2006, the Columbus, Ohio, school district approved a $12.5 million grant to help expand merit pay. According to a November 6, 2006, article in the Columbus Dispatch, the bonuses are based on the skill of the teacher as observed and evaluated in the classroom, student’s improvement on tests and the school’s improvement.

Proponents of performance-based pay say it is a powerful type of school reform that would reduce teacher’s absences and help to weed out the weakest educators. Critics say that tying teacher’s raises to student’s performance on standardized tests is not a true measure of a teacher’s work, and that a student’s exam cannot measure how hard a teacher works at his or her job.

A Des Moines Register poll, published on November 16, 2006, shows that Iowans are virtually split on the idea of performance-based pay. The poll showed that 44 percent of Iowans surveyed said they agreed with the idea of performance-based pay, while 48 percent of Iowans disagreed with the concept.

The Institute For Tomorrow’s Workforce (IWF), created in 2005 by then Governor Vilsack. has the mission of coming up with ways to improve education in the state of Iowa. The bill in the legislature would authorize 10 pay-for-performance sites (districts) next year, and 20 the year after.

Under a plan created by the IWF, Iowa’s teachers would move up a “career ladder,” a four-step process with teacher’s moving “up the ladder” (salary increases) tied to student performance. With this ladder in place, the initial minimum salary would be $32,000, and $3,000 more in subjects or schools that are deemed “hard-to-staff.” With academic growth for a majority of students, a teacher could move up to the “Career Teacher,” and would earn a minimum of $42,000, and with more academic improvement, a teacher could move up to the “Career II” level, which would raise the minimum teacher salary to at least $62,000. For the top level, the “Advanced Teacher” minimum would be $92,000.

“I believe we must first increase teacher pay to 25th in the nation and pay our Iowa teachers what they deserve,” Culver said. “After this is accomplished, I will listen to what legislators and other interest groups have to say with regards to other issues related to teacher pay.”

State Rep. Doris Kelley of Cedar Falls, who serves on the House Education Committee, said that the standards by which the legislature wants teachers to be judged need to be changed.

“I believe teachers who work extra hard ought to get extra money, but the problem is the standard by which the legislature wants teachers to be judged,” Kelley said. “Many are wanting merit increases to be tied to student performance, which is unusually measured by comprehensive assessment testing. These scores can be a misleading judge of a teacher’s work output. Those who teach honors classes, for example, preside over students who already are advanced in their abilities and are likely to score well regardless of the instruction. Those who teach remedial classes may work harder yet have students who score lower. Pay for performance is a competitive process, and it can be a divisive thing.”

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