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From the Desk of Rep. Betty De Boef

February 1, 2010
State Rep. Betty De Boef (R-What Cheer)
The first week of session ended in legislators remaining at the Capitol on Friday. In recent memory, being in on Friday the first week is unprecedented. Because most legislators have other employment, Friday has always been the day they use to go back to their other job, and also use for constituency forums, etc. The Federal Government was offering a grant called “Race to the Top” that could potentially provide between $60 m. and $175 million in federal grant money to Iowa schools. There was a big push to get the legislature passed in time to meet the January 19 deadline. I will admit I have some reservations about accepting federal government money. There are always strings attached. On the surface, however, the idea sounds good. Ideas like addressing the problems of failing schools, more Charter Schools, and investing in measures that encourage excellence, sounds very appealing. Unfortunately, the bill was written in a way that the Iowa Department of Education gets half the money, and any changes that are implemented will have to be approved by negotiating with the teacher’s union. The last minute effort to insert collective bargaining into Iowa’s “Race to the Top” effort brought a negative reaction from many Iowa school boards. This bill (SF 2033), is an attempt to make Iowa’s application more competitive, and included a last minute provision that school boards say ties their hands in managing staff and outcomes in low performing schools. Iowa’s RTTT (Race to the Top) process already had a black eye in terms of transparency and openness. First the advisory committee for Iowa’s RTTT application was not subject to open meetings law. Then last Friday the Iowa House voted on legislation that was introduced late Tuesday evening. According to the floor manager of the bill, it could not be amended because of timing. The rush was to meet the January 19 deadline. A total of 221 districts (approximately 60%) of the schools submitted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the deadline of 4:30 p.m. last Thursday. The legislation that passed on Friday, however, is making districts and their local voters think twice. Withdrawing from RTTT won’t be easy. The MOU said that the Iowa Department of Education decides whether the district can withdraw. The Iowa DOE requires the local school board to vote to withdraw and “advises” that the superintendent and teacher association president also submit a withdrawal letter if they signed the original application. According to the Department, the reason for the district’s withdrawal will also need to be submitted. The Department would then look at all the information and make a decision. The DOE will permit withdrawal of the RTTT application “if compliance will cause an undue burden to the district because pertinent information has substantially changed since the signing of the MOU”. Now many schools that had previously signed on are hoping they can rescind their application. The DOE is not inclined to allow this, however, because one of the criteria for Iowa qualifying for the grant is the wide-spread participation of school districts across the state. The Iowa Association of School Boards registered in opposition to this bill. It is no surprise that D. M. Register legislative reporter Kathie Obradovich calls it the “Race to the Trough”, as the language in the bill removes the “teeth” which would result in real improvement in the quality of education. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at 641-634-2227, or hgdb@iowatelecom.net.

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Rep. De Boef

 
 

 

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