Only about three weeks remain for this year’s session so our focus will soon turn to the state budget. Budget chairs have already begun their work reviewing the various programs and line items in their budgets.
For years, conversations about our education system have been confined to how much more money we’re going to spend each year. Every session, we come in, determine a new level of funding that we can provide to K-12 schools, and that’s the entirety of how we address education.
This year we’ve chosen to broaden the conversation on education to more than just funding. We’ve viewed this year as an opportunity to really dig into some of the systemic issues that our schools face, providing them with more flexibility and more local control.
As I’ve mentioned in many previous newsletters, giving schools additional flexibility has been one of our top priorities this session. We recognize that no two school districts are exactly alike and have worked to allow them to better meet the specific needs of our students and teachers.
Last week the House passed legislation to loosen funding restrictions and allow schools to use funds that sit unused from year to year, stuck in accounts because of burdensome state restrictions. We’ve worked closely with school boards, superintendents, and other school officials to craft this legislation and address the needs of schools.
This week we passed a bill that will give Home Rule authority to Iowa’s schools. This will provide locally-elected school boards across Iowa the opportunity to govern their schools in a way that meets the needs of their students, teachers, and communities.
Under current state law, schools are treated differently than cities and counties in the things they are allowed to do. Schools are governed under what’s known as “Dillon’s Law,” which prohibits them from doing things not expressly allowed by the state. Cities and counties on the other hand have much broader authority and simply can’t do things that are contrary to state law. This bill gives schools that same authority and will empower our administrators and teachers with the opportunity to thrive and explore innovative and bold ways to educate our children.
We have also changed the Legislature’s deadline to set funding for schools in a way that provides more certainty. The House had passed this reform many times, pointing to situations where the Legislature failed to meet its commitment.
It has become clear that revenue estimates a year and a half early are unreliable. By setting funding in the first 30 days, schools will have the certainty they need to set their budgets and will be able to count on the level of funding set by the Legislature. Additionally, taxpayers won’t have an unexpected property tax increase.
We will continue to invest in schools, just as we’ve done over the last six years. We have committed to spend an additional $40 million for K-12 education next school year, in a budget situation that is shaping up to be difficult. This will bring total spending on K-12 to nearly $3.2 billion, which accounts for 43% of the state’s budget.
Earlier this session, the state faced a budget shortfall of $117 million due to lower than anticipated revenue growth. While previous Legislature’s chose to underfund their promised level of funding to K-12, which then fell on the backs of property taxpayers, we fought to protect K-12 education from any budget reductions. By holding schools harmless, other areas of government had to make up the majority of reductions.
One of the final issues that we’re still looking to address this session deals with the various inequities that schools face. Many schools, especially in rural Iowa, are spending large amounts of funding on transportation costs, busing students to and from schools. Other schools aren’t allowed to spend as much per student due to the way the funding formula is written. A Senate bill that addresses these issues remains eligible this session and we’ll continue discussions with schools across the state to address some of these challenges
I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far this year and that we’ve been able to discuss issues, in addition to funding. These changes will allow schools to thrive and provide our kids with a world class education.
As the session continues to move along, please stay in touch. Please let me know your thoughts as different bills or issues arise. You can reach me at email@example.com or (515) 281-3521.