Gov. Kim Reynolds formally announced her intention to increase teacher pay in Iowa during her 2024 Condition of the State address on Tuesday, which Democrats and education officials lauded but said was long overdue.
“We want younger Iowans to see the teaching profession as something to aspire to,” Reynolds said. “It’s one of the highest callings one can have, so let’s make sure that teacher pay sends that message.”
Reynolds asked the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature to invest $96 million in new money to increase starting teacher payer to $50,000 and set a minimum salary of $62,00 for teachers with a least 12 years of experience.
Additionally, Reynolds wants to allocate $10 million to a merit-based grant program to reward teachers who have “gone above and beyond to help their students succeed.”
Details of how the plans would be funded and implemented were not immediately available but are expected to be rolled out soon.
“These investments will put Iowa in the top five states for starting pay and help recruit more of the best and brightest to join the teaching profession,” Reynolds said.
In an Iowa Press interview following the speech, House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst (D-Windsor Heights) said she was thrilled to see Republicans join with Democrats in wanting to pay teachers more, but she also had questions.
“We want to know about paraprofessionals and other professionals in the school, some of whom are earning less than $10 an hour,” Konfrst said. “It’s new money, but where is that money coming from and what strings are attached?”
Konfrst again noted they support the idea and that she hopes the governor isn’t simply trying to generate positive press.
“It’s a great headline to want a teacher pay increase but we want to know what else are we going to do to help teachers and who’s all going to benefit from this bill,” she continued. “We gotta see the details. We love paying teachers more—we’re big fans of it—let’s respect them for the professionals they are and leave them alone to do their jobs as well.”
Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek also expressed support for Reynolds’ teacher play proposal. However, he shared concerns similar to the ones expressed by Konfrst about ensuring all public education staff benefit from higher pay.
“We are optimistic that this promise will turn into action for all of the employees in our public schools, some of whom work with the most vulnerable students–and are still only making just $9 per hour,” he said.
“We hope this is not an empty campaign promise but will genuinely mean that she values recruiting and retaining public educators, community college instructors, and the professionals serving in our Area Education Agencies,” he continued.
Reynolds also used her speech to address rumors that she plans to gut Iowa’s Area Education Associations (AEAs), which were formed in the 1970s to provide educational equity throughout Iowa via nine regional service providers.
The governor claims AEAs lack meaningful oversight and said it’s unfair that school districts “are forced to give their special education funding to AEAs.”
“Over the last year, in dozens of conversations with parents, teachers, school administrators, and AEA staff, it’s become clear that while some of our AEAs are doing great work, others are underperforming,” Reynolds said. “We have superintendents who won’t use their services but are still required to pay for them.”
Reynolds argues that “AEAs have grown well beyond their core mission of helping students with disabilities, creating top-heavy organizations with high administrative expenses.”
Her proposal would force AEAs to focus solely on students with special needs. It would also remove independent oversight from AEAs and place them under the purview of the Iowa Department of Education, which gives her office more authority over them.
Furthermore, school districts would have direct control over special education funds and they could use them to partner with a different AEA region or private contractor instead of the geographic AEA region they are part of.
“In short, each school will decide how best to meet the needs of their students,” Reynold said.
Konfrst thinks this is short-sighted and undermines the value of AEAs, especially in rural areas.
“When we think about things like what just happened in Perry, we had AEA professionals on the ground to help with mental health,” Konfrst said. “When there’s a suicide in a school, AEA professionals are the ones who are there. She wants to boost behavioral health? [Then] why are you getting rid of the behavioral/mental health work that the AEAs are doing?
State Auditor Rob Sand, Iowa’s only statewide elected Democrat, also had concerns with the proposed changes to AEAs.
“She claims [AEAs] don’t have any meaningful oversight, which is funny because they get an audit every year like any other governmental subdivision,” Sand said. “So it’s a bit of an insult to the people in the private sector who usually conduct those audits.”
Sand also does not like the idea of taking away AEAs’ independent oversight.
“I wouldn’t trust that, not after watching the auditor’s office get gutted last year,” he said.
When asked what the Iowa Department of Education lacks to conduct oversight of AEAs, Sand’s answer was simple: Auditors.
Staff writer Nikoel Hytrek contributed to this report.
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