Legislators impressed during Marshalltown schools tour

Local legislators sampled a day in the classroom Thursday during the second annual Legislative Visit Day, organized by the Marshalltown Business Education Alliance.

Reps. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, and Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, observed students and met with faculty at Franklin Elementary School, Miller Middle School and Marshalltown High School. Marshalltown School District Associate Superintendent Susan Pecinovsky and David Barajas, CEO of the Marshalltown Regional Partnership, accompanied the lawmakers.

Reflecting on his visits, Smith said he was impressed by Franklin Elementary teacher Kathy Ferguson’s third grade students. He said he appreciated her integration of math concepts and vocabulary along with students’ use of wooden blocks during an exercise in spatial pattern analysis.

“I thought they were critical types of approaches that engaged the kids,” Smith said.

Fisher described the utilization of technology in classrooms as “impressive.”

For example, in Miller Middle School teacher Troy Long’s science class, students used electronic surveys to answer questions he posed. Answers were displayed on a screen through a projector, which he used to spur discussion. Next week, Long’s students are to develop a music video that outlines genetics concepts.

“I’m interested in knowing how does that help the bottom line,” Fisher said. “Is it just cool or is it really helping students learn more efficiently and effectively?”

To the business community, technology fluency is very important, noted Barajas.

“I think Marshalltown has done a great job of emphasizing, through STEM and through Project Lead the Way, the importance of that,” he said, referring to district’s specialized science and technology course offerings.

Barajas noted those programs and the workforce they help produce differentiates Marshalltown from surrounding areas, which benefits the city in terms of community growth and economic development.

Following classroom tours, he shared the alliance’s legislative priorities, which he hopes lawmakers consider during the 2016 legislative session – to begin Jan. 11.

“Education is our No. 1 priority because it absolutely drives everything else in the community and the economy,” Barajas said.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to veto one-time funding to Iowa community colleges and K-12 public schools at the conclusion of the 2015 session felt like a “slap to the system,” Barajas said.

He hopes for a different outcome this year.

The Marshalltown Business Education Alliance supports 5 percent growth in funding for both K-12 supplemental aid and general aid for community colleges. The alliance also seeks lawmakers’ support for state initiatives that subsidize workforce, career and technical training in higher education.

Smith doubts legislators will agree on an education budget without protracted debate, much less within 30 days of Branstad’s delivery of a budget proposal, as required by Iowa Code.

Fisher said Branstad’s veto made it clear to lawmakers he will not support use of one-time funds to finance ongoing expenses, making it “hard to come up with a compromise” across the aisle.

The amount of state revenue available for education spending will likely remain a source of contention throughout the session.

Republican lawmakers have stated their estimates indicate about $150 million is available, while Democratic leaders cite figures released by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which predicts about $280 million in new revenue.