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Tentative education reform deal struck

(Radio Iowa News) – Legislators have hammered out a tentative deal on education reform, one that creates a commission to study teacher evaluation methods and grants new independence for home schoolers.

Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City is chairman of the House Education Committee and one of 10 legislators who’ve been trying to resolve the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

“I’m very, very optimistic we’ll get something done today,” Jorgensen told reporters this morning.

Under the proposal, home schooling parents would be able to teach their kids driver’s ed and would be able to teach four unrelated students in the home. The plan also removes the state requirement that parents who home school their children file regular progress reports with the school district in which they live.

Jorgensen said some kids just don’t do well in the “larger settings” of a public school classroom.

“We just want to provide parents with options that we feel they should have a right to on who educates their kids, how their kids are educated and stuff and not a one-size-fits-all type scenario,” Jorgensen said.

The package sets a new, minimum Iowa teacher salary of $33,500 and offers stipends to talented teachers chosen mentor or coach others. The governor has said the ultimate goals are to improve the teaching profession and improve student achievement. Jorgensen said the deal meets those goals.

“This will do it,” Jorgensen said. “I’m very pleased with where we’re at right now.”

Public school districts that implement teacher mentoring programs would get about $310 per student to finance the effort, but it would be optional, something Jorgensen and other Republicans insisted upon.

“We’re wanting to put in some safety valves for school districts that get into the program,” Jorgensen said. “We don’t want any unfunded mandates.”

Weeks ago legislators agreed this plan would include the equivalent of a four percent in general state support for schools in the 2013/2014 school year and a four percent increase the following year.

Legislative leaders have hinted that today could be the last day of the 2013 legislative session, but there are a host of issues to resolve before midnight, as House rules prevent votes from occurring in the wee morning hours.