Baseline salary increase for teachers needed


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With nearly $1 billion left over from last year, the Iowa Legislature is facing what has become a rather unusual problem as of late: how best to deal with a budget surplus.

In his annual Condition of the State address delivered last week, Gov. Terry Branstad announced his plan for the surplus money, which includes measures to improve education by increasing pay for incoming teachers.

Specifically, Branstad proposed a change to the state’s school funding mechanism that would allow annual growth in school district budgets to be covered entirely by state aid instead of automatic property tax increases. Baseline pay for new teachers would rise by 25 percent from $28,000 to $35,000 a year, and a statewide initiative to attract more high-quality teachers would be put in place.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board supports Branstad’s plan to allocate a significant portion of the state’s budget surplus to these crucial education reforms. Increased incentives for Iowa’s best students to begin teaching would prove extremely beneficial to the state’s educational system.

Branstad’s proposals drive at the heart of what is, perhaps, the most important single problem facing education in Iowa and the country as a whole: Too few of America’s best students choose to become teachers. The body of evidence that ties teacher quality to student performance is robust; better teachers produce smarter, more capable students. The National Academy of Education cites the recruitment and retention of skilled teachers as a top goal.

According to a study from Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis published in September 2012, there is significant reason to believe that increasing teacher salaries will have an immediate positive effect on the demand for teaching positions in Iowa.

The study’s author, Heather Hough, found that when an urban school district in San Francisco increased pay for new teachers by about 12 percent on average — less than half of the increased proposed in Iowa — the number of applicants for new positions rose dramatically. As the number of applicants rose, Hough also observed that the quality of new hirings improved accordingly.

In order to direct new teachers to the places they are most needed, Branstad’s plan offers additional incentives for teachers who take jobs in high-need subjects, such as math and science, and for those who teach in poorly performing schools. Those teachers would earn a stipend worth between $5,000 and $6,000.

These changes, taken together, could reinvigorate the educational talent pool in Iowa while directing additional resources toward areas of particular concern including statewide math and science scores and educational inequality in poorer school districts.

There are, of course, some who would like to see more from the governor’s education proposal. The Iowa House Democrats released a response to Branstad insisting that “while [they are] ready to work to find common ground on education reform, many legislators believe the current fiscal challenges schools already face with rising health care, transportation, and energy costs must also be addressed as promised.”

This is a valid concern, considering the universal implications of rising health-care costs. Valid, too, are concerns that the state government is not using the budget surplus to alleviate its unfunded pension liabilities. Currently, Iowa owes more than $27 billion in pension money to public workers — 19 percent of that liability is not currently funded.

Given the relative fiscal health of our state and its pressing need for education reform, however, we believe that Branstad’s plan to invest in Iowa’s schools represents a great use of the $1 billion surplus.

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