Changes in Iowa would increase pay, offer more career pathways for teachers

Stateline Midwest ~ April 2013

A push in Iowa this year to reform its K-12 education system could mean higher starting salaries, more training and new career pathways for the state’s teachers.

“We have many good schools with committed educators,” Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said in announcing his proposed legislative reforms, “but they are stuck in a system designed for the 20th century, not the 21st century.”

As of late March, the state’s Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate had passed different bills to change how teachers are paid and classified.

As originally proposed by the governor, the starting minimum salary for a teacher would rise from $28,000 to $35,000, as part of an effort to attract more people to the profession. Once people became teachers, they would also receive more support and additional career choices.

The proposal calls for new categories of teachers — lead, mentor and model teacher — that would offer additional compensation and responsibilities outside of the classroom. These new career paths would be supported mostly by an increase in per-pupil funding from the state to local schools. (Branstad proposed an additional $314 per student.

Ryan Wise, director of strategic initiatives at the Iowa Department of Education, points to these pathways as the cornerstone of the proposed reform package.

"[They] offer multiple, meaningful, differentiated teacher leadership opportunities that will appeal to different teachers at different points in their careers,” he says. 

First-year teachers, for example, would have a reduced teaching load and more opportunities for mentoring and coaching. This year in residency, Wise says, is designed to ease the transition for new teachers and to keep individuals from leaving the profession: Nationwide, up to half of teachers now leave the classroom within five years.

Once established, a teacher could pursue several career paths. Model teachers would remain in the classroom full-time, and would receive five additional “contract days” a year (paid work days in their contracts) and an income supplement of at least $2,000 per year.

Mentor teachers would have a reduced instructional load (about 75 percent of their time) so that they could mentor other teachers. They would also play a role in curriculum development and have 10 added contract days. They would receive $5,000 more in salary annually.

Lead teachers would spend half of their time in the classroom and much of the rest as instructional leaders. They would help design and lead professional development efforts in the schools. They would get a salary supplement of $10,000 and 15 additional contract days.

School districts would be given some flexibility in developing these career paths, and could submit comparable plans to the Department of Education for approval.

A version of the governor’s plan, HF 215, passed the House, which cut the proposed minimum starting salary to $32,000 and made it optional for districts to create the new teaching designations. (Branstad has said districts would likely opt in due to the per-pupil bonus.)

The Senate passed its version of the bill (SF 423) in late March. It uses Branstad’s proposal for starting salaries ($35,000 per year) and increases state school funding to $400 per student. This version also removes the opt-in provision for districts, but gives districts more options regarding the new career paths for teachers.

Brad Hudson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Teachers Association, says “the Senate version is one we can work with” because of the flexibility given to school districts.

“Those options are good for teachers and good for education,” Hudson says.

As of late March, the House and Senate planned to try to work out their differences in conference committee.