Education is priority for Reynolds

Education reform that includes ”elevating the teaching profession” remains a priority for the administration of Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds told a Fort Dodge audience Monday.

Also on Monday, Reynolds joined nearly 40 local leaders to learn about the possibility of establishing a regional facility at which high school students could receive community college level instruction in various technical fields.

Education was a recurring theme as the lieutenant governor addressed the Fort Dodge Rotary Club and attended a work force training discussion hosted by Iowa Central Community College, the Mid Iowa Growth Partnership and the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.

Reynolds started her local visit by giving Rotarians an assessment of how the Branstad administration’s priorities are faring in the Legislature.

She said Iowa cannot be complacent when it comes to improving schools.

”We have great teachers that are doing great things in the schools and they are working hard every single day to make sure that our kids are graduating with the skill sets that they need, but unfortunately they’re operating in a 20th century model,” she said. ”It’s our goal to change that and really have systemic education reform.”

The $187 million proposal Branstad sent to lawmakers in January includes new teacher leadership roles, an increased minimum starting salary for teachers and tuition reimbursement for those who agree to teach in Iowa for five years. The state Senate and House of Representatives have each passed versions of that plan. Now a conference committee of senators and representatives is trying to create a compromise between the two bills.

”We’re hoping that we can get that done sooner rather than later so we can provide school districts the information that they need in order to certify their budgets,” Reynolds said.

She said she’s also hoping for legislative action on commercial property tax reform, which is another Branstad priority, Both houses of the Legislature are working on differing tax reform plans.

She defended Branstad’s plan to establish a health care system called the Healthy Iowa Plan instead of expanding Medicaid, which is the federal and state health insurance program for the poor. Reynolds described the Healthy Iowa Plan as ”sustainable and the best choice because it’s an Iowa-based solution.”

Adding 150,000 people to Medicaid, she said, is not sustainable and will not improve the health of those Iowans.

Following her address to the Rotary Club at the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites, 1518 Third Ave. N.W., Reynolds went to the East Campus of Iowa Central Community College on Quail Avenue for the worker training discussion.

Steve Ovel, associate vice president of governmental relations at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, described how his institution joined forces with eight school districts to create a regional education academy in Monticello. There, high school students take classes on technical subjects.

Dan Kinney, the president of Iowa Central, said there is local interest in setting up such an academy. Getting the money to do it is the main obstacle, he added.

Reynolds said she was impressed to see about 40 people from business, local government and schools assembled for the discussion. She said that was ”quite a compliment to the collaborative nature of this community.”

”You’ve got great things happening here,” she added.