Friday, December 28, 2001

Excerpts from recent editorials in Iowa newspapers.

Teacher shortage:

The nation's growing teacher shortage is well documented.

The problem is especially acute in Iowa. Half of the newly certified teachers graduating from the state's colleges go elsewhere for their first job, and many others leave after only a year or two of employment at an Iowa school.

And increasingly, veteran teachers are abandoning the profession sooner to seek other careers or accept early retirement incentives offered by districts desperate to save money.

What to do?

School districts must reinvent much of their operation. State legislators and education officials must also be open to change. Some examples of what could be done:

* Consolidate costs by more sharing of superintendents and other administrators with other districts, especially small rural schools.

* Revise the local option sales tax law, proven so effective in funding school infrastructure improvements, to supplement teacher salaries statewide.

* Create more ways to attract and adequately prepare people who have college degrees and experience in other career paths but are interested in becoming teachers.

Some innovation already is taking place.

More colleges are offering alternative teacher preparation programs for people seasoned in business, engineering and other professions.

Last spring, Iowa legislators came up with a fast-track proposal to train people who want to make the switch. Critics eventually shot it down, saying it didn't adequately prepare prospects for the classroom. But it's virtually certain that a revision will surface in the 2002 legislative session.

Most importantly now, educators, politicians and local school district officials must explore new ways to raise and use education dollars. They must boldly think out of the box about new approaches that could attract, develop and retain good teachers.

And as always, doing what's in the students' best interest should be the guiding force.


Road funds:

Struggles between rural and urban interests are likely to highlight this year's session of the General Assembly. As state revenue began declining last summer, lawmakers and the governor were faced with tough decisions about how to maintain services in light of diminished resources.

Further complicating the picture was the re-mapping of Iowa's legislative districts following the Census.

That effort to maintain equity among districts showed a continuing shift of political representations to the more populous urban areas and away from the rural.

Representatives of Iowa's largest cities proposed the state give urban areas a larger share of road funds compared to rural areas as a way to drive growth in the economy. Members of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, which represents the state's 15 largest cities, will ask lawmakers to increase the cities' share of road use tax.

Counties' and farm-to-market share would drop from a combined total of $300 million to $231 million.

State funding of farm-to-market roads is one of the reasons Iowa has so many miles of paved roads. However, the maintenance of those roads fall to the counties. It will be difficult to argue the quality of those roads should be sacrificed for pie-in-the-sky economic development goals.