State Rep. Chip Baltimore
State Rep. Chip Baltimore
February 25, 2013

JEFFERSON - State Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said Saturday that evolving education reform should include the eventual elimination of grade levels in K-12 public schools with students being grouped and taught by ability instead.

Speaking and answering questions for an hour at a Greene County Chamber of Commerce forum at Pizza Ranch in Jefferson, Baltimore said the ideal school system is one in which children are taught according to their abilities.

"I think that the days of taking one age group of children and grouping them together, and trying to have a teacher teach a wide range of abilities, especially in the lower elementary school ages, I think that those days are coming to an end," Baltimore said.

If a child is 10 years old but can read at a 16-year-old level, "than that's the level that child needs to be taught reading," said the Boone Republican who also represents Greene County in the House.

When questioned if such a plan would group kids of a wide range of ages - 5-year-olds, 10-year olds and 17-year-olds - in the same class, a modern twist on the old one-room schoolhouse, Baltimore said he saw that as possible.

"That's the most efficient way to teach children," Baltimore said. "But I think it's going to be a long ways before we ever see that, and I don't think you ever will see that completely."

Children realistically will be organized by age to a certain degree, he said.

"I think it's got to be tough for a teacher to sit there in a classroom of 10-year-old kids and try to come up with a reading lesson that accommodates children that are reading at maybe a first-grade level as well as children that are reading at an eighth-grade level," Baltimore said.

Education-reform legislation (House File 215) passed out of that chamber includes a measure to develop a task force for competency-based education that Baltimore hopes will address the organization of classes and upend the traditional protocols. Baltimore stressed that it's the task force's charge to present a plan.

"I am not coming up with that system," Baltimore said,

Baltimore, a Boone attorney and banker, said the House education reform package also increases base (beginning) teachers' salaries from $28,000 to $32,000.

The legislator said he's "very, very excited" about a provision that would provide up to $20,000 in college-tuition reimbursement for new teachers who commit to staying in Iowa for five years. Baltimore sees that as making college more affordable for the "best-and-brightest" students and keeping more teachers in Iowa after they are educated here.

"This bill, we think, is a beginning of a transformation of our educational system," Baltimore said.

About 20 people attended the forum, moderated by Bee & Herald columnist and former publisher of the newspaper Rick Morain.

Baltimore fielded questions about possible emerging legislation on firearms.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Baltimore plays a key role in shaping the legislative debate on this front. But in the heated environment in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, he's moving carefully on the matter.

"I am intentionally being very slow and deliberate before anything comes forward, whether it's pro-gun or anti-gun," Baltimore said.

He added, "You will not see a knee-jerk reaction from me in terms of moving any bills forward."

On health-care, Baltimore said he agrees with Gov. Terry Branstad's position of not expanding Medicaid in Iowa, largely through funding from federal health-care reform. Instead, Branstad, wants to improve IowaCares, a state-program aimed at helping the less-fortunate.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, Iowa could expand Medicare, covering tens of thousands of additional people, with the federal government covering the costs for the first three years, with the split going 90 percent federal and 10 percent state in ensuing years. The measure would cover Iowans who are at 138 percent of the poverty level - or about $32,000 in income annually. States have the option of joining the system or going their own way.

Baltimore said he is leery of tying Iowa patients more to the federal system as the nation is borrowing too much money as it is.

"That simple concept is not sustainable," Baltimore said.

Baltimore said he remains concerned about the federal government making good on its commitment over the long haul.

As it stands, the county hospitals in Greene and Boone counties have the authority to levy property taxes, which is based on the institutions operating for the public good, Baltimore said.

"Part of that public good might be treating those that can't afford care," Baltimore said.

He also suggested that hospitals are providing inflated figures when they talk about treating people without insurance in emergency rooms.

The building is already there, the lights are on, and staff members are on call so "out-of-pocket" costs for the hospital with the uninsured aren't the full costs of care for a patient, Baltimore said.

"It's not a correct figure because it's not actually being spent," Baltimore said.

Overall, Baltimore said, he sees third-payer systems of health insurance to be wasteful.

"You feel like you're spending somebody else's money rather than your own," he said.

What would make more sense is to allocate money to individuals to purchase their own health care while setting up a safety net for catastrophic or serious medical situations, Baltimore said.