Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, in an address to the Iowa Newspaper Association's membership last week, made a case for rethinking and improving educational opportunities for Iowa children.
Vilsack spoke abut a trip he and his wife had taken to China, where factory workers are happy to make the equivalent of $150 a month. Chinese students begin learning English as a second language as early as the second grade and by the time they have graduated high school, they will have spent two extra years in school.
The world is getting smaller and more competitive each and every day. In Iowa we have a long and proud tradition of excellence in education, but it appears that something needs to be done.
Recent polling shows that a majority of Iowans believe that we are losing our edge in education. The latest Iowa Poll conducted by The Des Moines Register found that 54 percent of survey respondents think Iowa's public school system is on the wrong track, while 38 percent said education in the state is headed in the right direction.
Vilsack wants the Legislature to increase state spending on teacher pay and performance programs by $30 million a year for the next five years. Vilsack also wants to increase state spending by $15 million annually over five years to pay for preschool for all children.
Those two suggestions play well to those responding to the poll with 61 percent in favor of preschool for all children and 60 percent in favor of paying math and science instructors more, since they are in short supply.
The governor, who is in his final year of his final term, wants the legislature to address these concerns and more. Like his predecessor, Terry Branstad, who also tried to get education reform passed during his final year, Vilsack runs the risk of gridlock and accomplishing nothing.
Everyone can see that something needs to be done, but a consensus on what is needed is essential before anything can be attempted, especially in an election year.