Posted at: 01/15/2013 10:43 PM
Updated at: 01/15/2013 10:50 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- One of the biggest issues facing the Iowa legislature this year is education reform.
With a nearly $1 billion state surplus, Governor Terry Branstad is looking to increase state education funding, and many of those dollars could end up in the pockets of Iowa's teachers.
The governor has proposed increasing the state's minimum teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000, a move that would bring the state more in line with Minnesota where the average first-year salary is just over $33,000.
It's an idea that aspiring teachers and education officials say could greatly improve the number and quality of available teachers.
“I think it'll add more incentive for kids wanting to become teachers because a lot of the reason why people don't want to become one is because of the starting salary," said Robert Nelson, a student in the University of Northern Iowa’s College of Education.
“We think anytime you can get more people interested in the teaching pool that's a great opportunity to get the right people in your school system,” said Darwin Lehmann, superintendent of Forest City Community Schools.
But the idea also presents a problem for districts already operating under very tight budgets.
“How do we handle our veteran teachers if we're looking at bumping the minimum up by $7,000?” Lehmann said. “How do we handle the other teachers?"
It's a problem made all the more complicated by Branstad's proposal to restructure part of the state's education funding, which could limit school's options.
In the end, educators say they still need more information and reassurance that necessary funding levels will be met.
“I think there are some things in the education reform overall that are real positive to consider,” Lehmann said. “But the devil is in the details."
Deficiencies in education funding are often filled by local property taxes, which only gives educators more pause as Governor Branstad plans to cut property taxes state-wide by 20 percent over the next four years.