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Iowa government officials disagree on education reform funding

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | MARCH 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local educators say legislative efforts to improve K-12 literacy rates requires policymakers to look at more than they currently are.

The Iowa House Education Committee voted last week to take $20 million from a $30 million education program to reduce class sizes and strengthen child literacy and put it entirely toward an education-reform bill. The bill would split funds with in the current education program, which aims to cut class sizes in order to ensure higher test scores.

Part of that bill would require third-grade students to pass a reading exam or be witheld from moving to the next grade.

Hoover Elementary Principal Diane Bradford said legislators are right to focus on improving literacy.

"I think that it's very important that the third-grader is ready to move on to fourth grade," she said. "I think putting as much money as we can into an early childhood program is important."

As of 2009, fourth-graders in the Iowa City School District were at a 79.16 percent reading proficiency level as opposed to the statewide level of 79.39 percent, according to a trend report by the Iowa Department of Education.

However, Bradford, said she remains unsure if money should be shifted around in the process.

"If I had to lean one way or another, it would be preparing kids to move on in order for them to be more literate later on in life," she said. "We don't have the opportunity to always control the number of students in the classroom."

Lincoln Elementary Principal Ann Langenfeld said legislators will have to provide additional tests to ensure third-graders are maintaining the required reading levels.

"I think it would be a major shift in thinking," she said. "How do you define if a third-grader is ready for fourth grade? There are so many things that need to be clarified."

House members are split on whether the money shift will be effective in reforming education in Iowa.

"It's not really changing the purpose of the money," said Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf. "I think it makes sense — why wouldn't you use the money and make it more purposeful?"

But Brad Hudson, the Iowa State Education Association government-relations specialist, said moving the money around takes away from other programs.

"The [initial] program was a reading-recovery initiative," he said. "If you were above class size, you needed to reduce it. To see $20 million taken away from that program to put it right back into reading recover, so how do you expand these programs?"

Miller said shifting the $20 million from the current education program would strengthen literacy efforts.

"The outrage about stealing money from one pot and putting it into another is somewhat fringe," she said. "Of course, everyone in education wants more money for their programs."

Hudson said new programs should be formed instead of breaking existing ones.

"What we need is additional resources to help students," he said. "We think the programs in place are successful, but we need to look at some additional programs."

However, Rep. Curtis Hanson, D-Fairfield, said shifting money is pointless.

"I think it's shuffling the debt chairs to take money from a program that is designed to reduce class sizes and put it into another program [doing the same thing]," Hanson said. "It's renaming [the program], but it's not going to be truly reformed because we were doing this before."


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