The Ottumwa Courier

January 23, 2014

Teachers lead the way

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Teachers are well suited to help Iowa regain its place on the top 10 states for education list. And there's money available for districts that agree.

In the most recent legislative session in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad asked for, and — with some changes, received — an education reform package. His administration talked to parents, teachers and officials from other states to find what would really work for Iowa schools. Iowa should be toward the top of those "best states" lists, he said in multiple town hall meetings.

"This was [one] part of the education reform package," said Ottumwa school district superintendent Davis Eidahl. "The intent is to provide more opportunities for more teachers in a leadership roll and to compensate them for the additional responsibility and time."

The question from educators at the time of the suggestion: Is the state really going to fund this? Or, are districts going to get burned, like they have in the past?

Eidahl believes state officials are sincere.

"They have $50 million to impact a third of Iowa students," he said. "It's written in the legislation. It would take an act of the Iowa Legislature to defund it. So we're banking on this being long term."

A release from Branstad says more than "a third of Iowa school districts" are expected to vie for the state’s first round of teacher leadership grants.

"The voluntary program — which calls on schools to develop new roles for teachers — was the centerpiece of an education reform bill passed in May by state lawmakers. Participating school districts will receive an additional $309 in per-pupil funding each year from the state."

Just be sure to look at the wording carefully, said Eidahl. There are more than 300 school districts in Iowa.

"It's not a third of the schools [sharing in the funding], it's a third of Iowa's students. So if it's a couple of big school districts, that's it," he said.

Some schools aren't even applying the first year. Ottumwa is applying for a share of the $50 million.

"We feel we already have many of the [required] components in place. This will enable us to increase the number of teachers who have an opportunity to influence achievement in the district by [assisting colleagues]. We could add four teacher leaders to the elementary [level], two to the middle school and one more at the high school," Eidahl said.

All districts already pull in more than $5,000 per student. What does a grant of $309 mean to Ottumwa financially?

"It means an additional $1.4 million for our district," said Eidahl. "We can use that to significantly [impact] student achievement."

The grant application is due next week. Districts will be notified of results of the competitive grant award process in mid-March.

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark