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Republicans in Iowa Statehouse raise ideas to recruit teachers. Democrats call for more state aid

The golden dome of the Iowa Capitol building stands out against a blue sky.
John Pemble
IPR file
Bills proposed in the Iowa legislature look to fill a shortage of teachers across the state by allowing professionals in other industries to change careers more quickly.

Republican lawmakers in the Iowa legislature are proposing ideas to fill a shortage of teachers across the state. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders argue that a larger increase in state funding would help schools attract more educators.

A bill advancing in the Senate (SSB 3067) is aimed at speeding up the process of approving new teachers through an alternative licensing process.

Currently, people going through the state’s teacher intern programs at the University of Iowa or Morningside University in Sioux City can teach at the high school level after one year of coursework.

The Senate proposal would allow people enrolled in the program to be classroom teachers even sooner. Teacher interns would be able to work in 6th through 12th grade while they go through more training.

Dave Daughton of the Rural School Advocates of Iowa told a subcommittee Tuesday that the nationwide workforce shortage has been hard on schools.

“We are short teachers in our classrooms,” Daughton said. “We need as many as we can get. We want them to be high quality and qualified. What’s in this bill will help us do that.”

The Senate bill would allow a graduate from an out-of-state teaching program to apply for an Iowa license if they have a job offer from an Iowa school district. It would further allow schools to use funds that were once used to offer retirement incentives to offer student loan payment incentives to teacher recruits.

Similar bills have been proposed in the Iowa House.

“This is Iowa’s way of starting the process of doing an all-options look at how we get folks into classrooms,” said Senate Education Committee chair Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. “It really is focused on helping Iowa school districts recruit and retain high quality teachers.”

Democratic leaders in the legislature said they are open to teacher recruiting proposals, but they said other Republican measures feed into the politicization of book controversies and are counterproductive to the cause.

“I think that if we’re going to look into the teacher shortage, a quick way to do that is to not threaten to put anyone in jail for doing their jobs,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, referring to a bill proposed in the Iowa House on Tuesday.

The bill (HF 2176), co-signed by 14 House Republicans, would make it a misdemeanor for teachers or librarians to share books or other materials “the person knows, or reasonably should know, is obscene or harmful to minors.”

The legislation follows campaigns carried out at school board meetings in Iowa and across the U.S. aimed at removing books from schools that some parents find offensive.

Some of the books are written by LGBTQ authors or feature LGBTQ characters and describe sexual experiences or abuse.

The House bill also echoes a similar suggestion from Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who accused teachers who defend the books of carrying out a “sinister agenda” in his opening speech of the legislative session.

Konfrst said the House bill, and other proposals related to the book controversies, are discouraging for teachers who may consider changing their own careers.

“I think that what we need to be focusing on is are we villainizing teachers who are doing the best they can in the classroom?” she said.

Democrats are calling for a $300 million increase in school funding for next year, which they said would support teachers by helping to reduce class sizes and raise salaries. Konfrst compared it to other priorities proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“If Gov. Reynolds has $300 million to put toward another corporate tax cut, then there is room in our budget to invest $300 million in Iowa’s kids,” Konfrst said.

As part of her tax plan, which also includes a flat income tax, Reynolds has proposed decreasing corporate taxes for some businesses at an estimated cost of around $300 million over five years.

Reynolds is also proposing a 2.5 percent, or $154 million, increase in state funding for K-12 schools.

Republican leaders in the Senate are preparing to consider a 2.25 percent increase. House Republicans have not announced their proposed increase in state aid.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story gave the Senate's proposed state aid increase at 2.4 percent. The Iowa Senate is proposing 2.25 percent increase.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa