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Iowa Dems tout Obama’s proposal, its impact on jobs and education

DES MOINES — President Obama’s American Jobs Act would mean about 11,000 jobs for Iowa, Democratic leaders say, including 4,100 teaching and first responder positions and 6,700 construction jobs.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky, Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) and Des Moines Education Association President Melissa Spencer spoke about the plan Monday at the Des Moines Public Schools Central Campus.

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Dvorsky said Republicans are not listening to Americans on this issue, instead caving to tea party interests and opting to slash spending for education.

“Republicans believe we should protect tax breaks for corporations and special interests while we cut funding for our kids’ education,” she said.

The Des Moines Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has cut its budget by $73.6 million since 2002 and seen a 6 percent decline in teaching force since 2007. The result has been larger class sizes and less individual attention for students, Spencer said.

She noted kindergarten class sizes have climbed to 28, and some high school classes are above 40. That’s especially hard for a district where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 15 percent are English Language Learners, Spencer said.

“Education is a civil rights issue and it helps our children break free from the cycle of poverty and puts them on a path to a prosperous future,” she said.

Spencer, who’s taught chemistry and physics at North High School for nine years, said the infrastructure funds would also be welcome. The gas in her classroom doesn’t work so Bunsen burners can’t be used, and the pipes rattle every time the water is turned on.

“We could definitely use the money to modernize our labs,” she said.

Quirmbach said Gov. Terry Branstad, who recently unveiled a state-level education reform proposal, should support Obama’s plan.

“I would hope that he would get behind the president’s proposal because certainly the money the federal government is proposing here would help achieve our goals in education reform,” Quirmbach said.

But Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, said the governor is not interested in Obama’s jobs proposal.

“The governor does not support the president’s effort to pass another stimulus package,” Albrecht said. “The first stimulus package was a failure, our debt is massive, and we cannot afford another failed stimulus.”

Iowa would receive $287 million for the teaching and first responder jobs under Obama’s plan, as well as $133 million for school facilities and $386 million for general infrastructure.

“I know Republicans in Washington have grown more partisan and ideological but surely they can work with President Obama on an issue as important as this,” Dvorsky said.

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