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Though friendly, Iowa and Texas governors differ on education

They may go to each other for advice on 2012 and other gubernatorial matters, but when it comes to education in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad isn’t necessarily looking to Gov. Rick Perry‘s Texas as an education reform template, though similarities between the states is keeping Branstad on Democrats’ and educators’ notices.

Controversy has grown in Texas throughout the education system, particularly in the case of higher education, now guided by a board of regents that Perry has largely hand-picked during 11 years in the governor’s office.

At the center discord are the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” a proposal introduced in 2008 by the think-tank Texas Public Policy Foundation. Fully embraced by Perry, the solutions propose a complete restructure of the state higher education system, primarily shifting focus away from the research aspect at state higher education institutions, emphasizing the teaching and academic aspects, and basing faculty bonuses on student evaluations.

“It’s something we’ll have to study further before taking a position,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said. “Right now, we’re focused on the broad-based reforms discussed at our education summit, and creating a system that works for Iowa in restoring world-class schools.”

The University of Texas and Texas A&M systems have pushed back on the “seven breakthrough solutions.” Texas Exes, the University of Texas Austin’s alumni association, says while it supports higher education reform, they hold the position the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” is not the way to go about it.

“The proposals, which are based on the premise that professors spend too much time on esoteric research and not enough time in the classroom, would separate teaching and research budgets, give professors pay raises based on student evaluations, have teacher productivity measured by how many total students are taught in a semester, and treat students as customers,” Texas Exes executive director Leslie Cedar said. “We believe that they would be detrimental to the university’s mission as a public research university of the 21st century.”

Though Perry, now in his third gubernatorial term, has in the past been criticized for appointing his friends and political contributors to the board of regents, the proposals have not been adopted because not all of the regents have endorsed or approved of them, though the tone among higher educators and different policy think tanks is concern about what could happen with a board entirely handpicked by the same governor.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/craig_lang_125.jpgCraig Lang

Similar concerns to could arise in the Hawkeye State, following disapproval toward Branstad’s instigation that led to the voluntary resignation of two Iowa Board of Regents members: President David Miles and President Pro Tempore Jack Evans. Branstad then appointed Craig Lang and ethanol mogul Bruce Rastetter, a prominent GOP donor and Branstad ally, into Miles and Evans positions, respectively.

Though Evans and Miles initially declined to resign in May at Branstad’s request, the pair ultimately willingly stepped down. Reaction, nonetheless, when combined with his office’s decision to render a pay cut against a state Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, was harsh against the Governor, including editorials referring to him as a bully who was wanted to politicize the citizen-based Regents.

Branstad’s office has previously cited hostility from the Board of Regents, however, which led to his asking the pair to step down. Specifically, Branstad asked the Board to delay naming a proposed public policy center at Iowa State University after U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) until his new appointees joined the Board.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/bruce_rastetter_125.jpgBruce Rastetter

The appointments and Rastetter’s tie to Branstad has caused some concern among Democrats that reforms Branstad and House Republicans would like to see may more easily come to pass.

“The Regents have always been allowed to operate independently of political will, and for good reason. There’s little doubt that Gov. Branstad violated that tradition by asking Regents to resign from their leadership positions, in favor of his appointees,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said, adding the Iowa Board of Regents are expected to advocate on behalf of state higher education.

“As the new appointees continue their term as Regents, I hope they recognize that their loyalty is to the students, faculty and staff who work everyday to keep public higher education strong in the state of Iowa,” Dvorsky said.

Branstad has defended his appointments, however, telling the Cedar Rapids Gazette in mid-July:

“I respect and recognize the separate governance of the board, but I think it’s also important to have somebody that I think shares my general philosophy, and somebody that we feel that we could work well with. I also feel that the relations with the Republican Legislature have been somewhat strained under the present leadership and this I think will also improve our relationship with the Legislature as well.”

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