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DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate voted 39-10 Tuesday to approve a House-passed bill that would award the state’s standardized testing contract to Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa, a move that would override a years-long process that awarded the deal to an out-of-state vendor.

House File 2235 would have the UI develop assessments taken by some 360,000 Iowa students each school year beginning July 1 – a change to the outdated Iowa Test of Basic Skills that opponents said would invite a legal challenge and risk significant federal money.

Senators approved an amendment during floor debate that requires the bill to go back to the Iowa House. Eleven Democrats joined 28 Republicans in approving the measure, which was opposed by nine Democrats and one independent.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, the bill’s floor manager, said the Senate changes spell out parameters for the testing program to align the standards with Iowa curriculum and meet federal requirements. He said he was satisfied the changes would address concerns along with saving $9.3 million annually, and he consulted legal experts before proceeding.

“This is a good bill,” said Chelgren.

The legislation’s movement comes after years of delays in replacing tests students now take, the Iowa Assessments, with tests more aligned to what they learn in the classroom under the Iowa Core.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, took issue with the “shameful history” of the process that has spanned five years, calling it a “disgrace,” and predicting the matter could be the subject of litigation if the state passes over the American Institutes of Research in Washington, D.C., which was the previous bid winner.

“This legislation sends a really bad message,” said Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland. “The message from senator and representatives is that politicians know more about what works in the classroom than teachers who are in the classroom every day.” She berated the bill’s supporters for asking educators to engage in a disrespectful and “fruitless” exercise, saying “their voices were ignored 100 percent.”

Also Tuesday, senators voted 44-5 to confirm West Des Moines attorney Mark Lowe’s confirmation as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ choice to lead the Iowa Department of Transportation. Four Democrats and one independent opposed Lowe’s appointment while 28 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to confirm him to a position he has held on an interim basis.

Gubernatorial nominees must win a two-thirds majority of the Senate, or at least 34 affirmative votes, to be confirmed. Currently, the Iowa Senate is made up of 28 Republicans, 20 Democrats and one independent.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, objected to the DOT’s unauthorized “mission creep” into police powers reserved for the Iowa State Patrol that has resulted in legal challenges to traffic citations issued by DOT enforcement officers.

“This management discretion has gone wild,” said Danielson in objecting to DOT actions that has cost state funds at a time when state troopers face austere spending – hurting employee morale and raising other concerns.

But Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, countered that the DOT is one of the most efficiently run agencies in state government and urged senators to “consider the big picture” in supporting Lowe’s confirmation, saying the director has “done a great job.”

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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