Later this session the Iowa Legislature will debate various measures, namely the Governorâ€™s, designed to improve the performance of our stateâ€™s K-12 schools.Â There are three main components to the Governorâ€™s proposal and in a continuing series we will look at each separately.Â Today we start with the most expensiveâ€”the $160 million for increasing the base teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000 over the next three years.
First things first here, before they appropriate an additional dime of taxpayer money to this system it is both fair and prudent that at least three simple questions be asked and answeredâ€”Who are the great teachers in Iowa? Who are the average teachers? and Who are the bad teachers?
To clarify, by â€œwhoâ€ I mean a literal list of names district by district categorizing each teacher as great, average, or poor in terms of classroom performance.Â Though this sounds simplistic I think most Iowans would be shocked to know how complicated a question this really isâ€”and even further shocked to find out that nobody in the education bureaucracy can currently answer these questions definitively.
All we hear from both political parties is we have great teachers in Iowa, and to both reward this greatness and make sure we have great teachers in the future we have to pay them more.Â Even though itâ€™s just as pertinent to fixing the problem, and because itâ€™s not pleasant or politically correct, we never hear about bad teachers in our classrooms.Â You would think the first step in solving this problem, as it would be in the private sector, would be determine which employees are not performing their jobs at a high level.
While there is no doubt I am skeptical of most of these individual proposals I will reserve judgment and keep an open mind as legislation is crafted and various amendments are added.Â I donâ€™t need to agree with all elements of the final product to support it, but do have to feel that it at least identifies the problem specifically.Â As with all issues there is both a policy and a political aspect that need examined.
From a policy perspective, to just approve a blanket increase in pay when a majority of our schools are functioning very well is sillyâ€”and to spend this money with no clear goal or way of measuring success is flat-out nonsensical.Â Common sense says that in order for anyone, especially a Republican, to support a final bill it would have to contain clear benchmarks and ways of actually proving results were being delivered for the extra pay. As it stands now the approach seems to be letâ€™s just pay teachers more money and in theory kids will learn moreâ€”which hasnâ€™t proven to be the case in the past.
To make the point beyond question that we have already tried theÂ increased funding approach, one needs only to consider the following three statistics: 1) since 2002 education appropriations to K-12 schools in Iowa has increased $650 million (+35.4%), 2) the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010, and 3) 4% allowable growth was given every year from 2006 to 2010.Â In spite of all these amazing numbers, here we are again talking about more money.
What few seem willing to say is that when a school is failing there are only three actors involved to shoulder the blameâ€”the teachers, the parents, or the students.Â Simply put, one of the three, or a combination of all three, are at fault when a school is failing.Â When looking at the teachers one obvious element is missingâ€”a way to fairly evaluate how good each one is and how much money they deserve.Â Until this gets determined one senses that no amount of increased spending will do the trick.Â Here is what I propose.
While unsympathetic to their concerns regarding â€œteaching to a testâ€, Iâ€™m relatively sympathetic to teacherâ€™s arguments that there are many factors out of their control determining a classesâ€™ progress throughout a school year.Â Taking this into account my initial thought on a fair formula to evaluate our teachers (and hence dictate future pay) would look like this: 25%= credit for years on the job and the resulting experience (this would be automatic much like the step and lane increases in the current formula), 25%= based on student achievement using a baseline for the class coming in compared to their results going out, and 50%= determined by a yearly grading and evaluation by their direct superior (usually their principal).
From a political standpoint the construct of the increased pay proposal seems to be offering Democrats (the teachersâ€™ union) the following: we will increase teacher pay in exchange for allowing student achievement to be factored in to teacher evaluation.Â In my view Republicans shouldnâ€™t be bargaining for a student achievement metric in evaluationsâ€”they should be demanding it.Â This should be a reality both because it makes perfect sense, and because past reforms and increases in pay have not solved the problem.Â Republicans should be able to win on the political argument that, in order to fix the problem, Iowans need to know which teachers are adequately doing their jobs.
If there is a political trade to be made in exchange for increasing teacher pay it should be for a significant look at the benefits of true school choice for parents.Â In my mind this would be a four year pilot program in which parents at all failing and sub-standard schools in Des Moines would have the freedom to spend the per-pupil cost attached to their child at any school they chose (with transportation being the responsibility of each participating parent).Â All students involved would have their progress tracked, with reports being given to the legislature after years 2 and 4.Â This would be similar in principal to the Zaun study bill from last session without all the â€œextremeâ€ elements, like abolishing the Dept. of Education etc.
I would love to see baby-steps being taken in this direction, and would dare the teachersâ€™ union to make the argument to Iowans that the well-being of the teachers and their union trumps that of a student in a failing school which they staff.
Given the history of failure in select districts and the many fruitless past funding increases, in general I believe the Republican hand on education reform is stronger than the Governorâ€™s proposal recognizes.Â There is little reason the argument canâ€™t be made that we have tried the teachersâ€™ union way of never assigning blame and increasing spendingâ€”and it has not worked.Â If there is going to be reform, let us at least not try the same blanket increases in spending and hope for a different result.Â Instead we should identify the shortcomings in the flawed districts and fix them specifically.
Monday is the first day of the 2010 session of the Iowa Legislature. Â Over the past month or so I’ve had an opportunity on my internet radio show The Conservative Reader Report to discuss the upcoming session with a few local Republican House Members, including Peter Cownie, Erik Helland, and Chris Hagenow. Â All of them had the same message we’ve been hearing via the press: this year’s session will be about the Budget.
These Republicans also stated their support for giving Iowan’s the right to vote for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage, despite the fact that it appears unlikely such an opportunity will exist in the 2010 session. Mike Grandstall has already stated that he will not allow a bill that will define marriage as one man and one woman. Â The liberal media is all about calling it discriminatory and that it is “against same-sex marriage”, but the biggest furor should be over one simple thing: Democrats being “against” Â the right of Iowans to vote on this important issue. Â It is ironic that the Democratic Party, the supposed party of “Yes”, is now the party of “No”. Â And this on something less trivial than the typical money spending that Republicans typically try to stop, but on a most fundamental right of Iowans, and clearly desired by a majority of Iowans, to vote on this issue directly. Â Instead, the majority party chooses to abrogate the rights of Iowans.
Also on the table are potential opportunities to bring back some labor union priorities, Fair Share apparently being on top of the Governor’s list (he and other Dems owe the unions a lot, and they have not done much to deliver so far). Â Other priorities include Prevailing Wage, and Doctor Shopping.
Getting back to the budget, it was encouraging to see today’s Des Moines Register editorial recommending, along with “preserving healthcare for low-income Iowans”, among other things, that the Legislature take a hard look at Tax Credits and consolidation, but most important:
“…the discussion also should include suggestions about what state government can do without…”
How long can it take to figure this one out? Â And the Register even made some good suggestions:
“…the Power Fund? Economic-development programs? Services that could be turned over to private contractors?”
And they said, (gasp!) that schools would have to get by with less!
This is certainly a start. Â Perhaps the approach that the Editors are seeking is to “make a list and lets see what we can drop to get the budget balanced”. Â The notion that budgeting is a hard process involving a balance between what we can afford and what we want is the unfortunate result of coveting what others have. Â Greed and selfish desire drive this kind of thinking.
Unfortunately, our current legislature and administration’s thinking about the role of government is that it exists to make sure everyone gets their share of the pie… that everything that has ever looked like a legitimate government service or department must be viable. Â Try to stuff everything into a bag, and then pull out a few odds and ends to make it fit the budget.
The typical conservative view is that government exists to address the real needs of the people that cannot be filled by individuals and business or non-profits. Â Life (defense, security, emergency services), liberty (justice, rule of law), and property/pursuit of happiness (infrastructure, free-market capitalism). Â Most of what government needs to address can be fit in these categories. Â Some would say that anything on top of that is optional. Â But why should they be optional? Â All that does is promote the idea that there is a government trough available at least in good times, and as we’ve seen, also in bad times.
Our government should stop spending money on things that that the government simply does not need to be doing and can instead be done by business, non-profits and individuals on their own. Â Instead, our government will continue to bloat because everyone seeks the opportunity for free money from the government. Â What is needed is real discipline.
And don’t believe that your taxes won’t get raised… as long as the Legislature is unable to bring spending down to an appropriate level they will need to find ways to “raise revenue”… that is, raise taxes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I might take some heat for this. Â I agree that the NRA recommendations for changes to Iowa handgun laws would be beneficial to the citizens of the state, and I hope we can get them brought through the legislative process soon. Â However, I also agree with the Register that in 2010, this will simply be a distraction. Â And in 2010, with a Democratically controlled Assembly, we probably won’t see it pass anyhow. Â It would be best to wait until 2011 when the balance of power is likely to shift back to the right a bit.
However, I don’t take the same position on the Marriage Amendment. Â It would not hurt to allow this to hit the floor and get discussed and voted on in both houses this year… it will still need to be approved in the 2011 session before it can go to the voters. Â Delaying it a year does only that… delays it. Â The sooner the people of Iowa have an opportunity to vote on this the sooner we can put it behind us.
I’m also glad to see the Register continue to argue for transparency. Â I don’t think that either party historical has a corner on promoting more open government, but Republicans have tried last year to get some good legislation through to ensure the public would have easy access to information about what our government is doing, but was rejected by the Majority. Â It really is time to open the doors and make the data available to all.
Since I don’t currently have the time I need to follow the work of the Iowa General Assembly as closely as I’d like, it helps me to read these updates from Peter.Â This week, I’m surprised to learn that the Democrats are anxious to bring back the “Fair Share” concept that they tried to force down Iowan’s throats last year.
It isn’t bad enough that we have to struggle to ensure that spending is under control and that we don’t depend on the Federal Government to meet our fiscal needs, but do we really have to start sucking up to the unions yet again by taxing non-union members to pay for the junkets of corrupt union leaders?
Mind you, if union members really want to throw their money away by paying union dues that cost them more than they get (and I mean costing in terms of lost opportunities, meager strike funds and ridiculous concessions that just bankrupt the companies they work for), that’s their business.Â But dragging their co-workers into paying for the same obsolete concept is larceny.
Call your representative and stop this madness!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Meanwhile the budget battle goes on.Â Evidently, the message continues to be finding ways to keep the spending flowing despite any sense of thoughfulness.Â Granted, I think we can live on a lot lessÂ spending even when the economy is good… and if we worked with that mindset, it wouldn’t be so hard for us right now because we’d already have budget, the government, the horse trough, all under control.Â It’s too bad we don’t do enough to hold the politicians accountable.
But you can.Â Call them.Â And start planning for the 2010 elections.
You can view Peter’s newsletter here.
Peter poses some great positive ideas for improving the current economic state of affairs in Iowa, with particular and appropriate emphasis on our need to reduce state government spending:
These cuts should be a positive thing for the taxpayers of Iowa. Like any business that goes thru [sic] hard times, the cutting of excess can make government leaner and more efficient in the long run.
This should be a message spread throughout the States’ and Federal Legislatures: part of our problem has always been too much government spending, too much bloating in the government, too big a trough for elected officials to feed on and build electoric favoratism to ensure a nice long career as a politician.
Although I haven’t had time to peruse the budget that Governor Culver has placed in front of the General Assembly yet, I appreciate the fact that he has gone a long way to cutting the fat out of Iowa Government.Â However, since we are still a ways from seeing a balanced budget, there is more to do.Â The Entitlements need more thoughtful review.Â I hope to have some thoughts on the content of the budget next week.Â Meanwhile, if you’re interested,Â you can read the budget here.
And the convoluted attempts to raise money through shenanigans such as leasing or selling the Lottery cannot be allowed to move forward.Â Emily Geiger at Battleground Iowa had a great analysis of the current state of the politics around this issue Thursday.
At any rate, we don’t get a lot of time to do the lawmaking here in Iowa.Â We need to all pay attention as our Legislators and Governor are making decisions that may impact us for a while.Â Keep in mind that even though we have a Balanced Budget law in Iowa, the politicians are still adept at manipulating the numbers to convince us they’ve done as much even though they have not.
And get in contact with your Statehouse Representative and Senator.Â They are there for you.