Upmeyer Wants More Tools for Education

by Linda Upmeyer – Iowa House Speaker

Happy Independence Day!  As always, I’m looking forward to the Clear Lake Fourth of July parade and all the area events.  I’m excited to see many familiar faces and celebrate the birth of this great country!

Iowa’s K-12 education system has been receiving heaps of national praise over the last several months.  Investment in schools is at an all-time record high of more than $3.2 billion, a 30% increase since 2011.  Only three other states have increased funding for K-12 schools at a higher rate than here in Iowa.  Our teachers are some of the best-paid in the entire country, ranking 8th highest when you account for our low cost-of-living.

Good schools means our kids have an opportunity for a great life after graduation.  I’m proud of this track record and will continue to support Iowa schools to ensure a world-class education for Iowa’s kids.

In my last newsletter, I highlighted some of the things we’re doing to ensure schools have the resources necessary to meet the needs of Iowa students.  While funding is an important aspect, I was pleased that over the last few sessions we have been able to broaden the conversation to other issues that will improve our state’s K-12 education system.  This week I want to highlight some of those important things.

More flexibility and local control

Over the last several years, a shared priority of both parties has been to provide schools with greater flexibility in how manage their resources.  We’ve worked closely with school boards and administrators to identify opportunities to loosen some of the strings that are attached to funding provided by the state.  Oftentimes, schools meet the needs required by certain funding but have funds leftover that they aren’t able to spend on other priorities.  This leads to funds being stuck in accounts

To address this situation, we created a “flex” account where some of these dollars will now flow so that they can be used on other needs within that school.  We also loosened several of the strings that are tied to funds reserved for specific purposes so they can be spent in a more efficient and effective manner.

Additionally, we removed the Department of Education from the approval process of At-Risk and Dropout Prevention plans.  This allows locally-elected school boards and school administrators to develop the plans that work best for them.

We recognize that no two schools are exactly alike.  Schools in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids aren’t like schools in Hampton or Clear Lake.  All too often, our schools are bound by inflexible mandates from bureaucrats in Des Moines, which is a disservice to students, parents, and teachers.  Locally-elected school boards and administrators know the individual needs of their districts and we will continue to look for these opportunities to provide them with more local control in future sessions.

School safety measures

The issue of school safety is another topic that has been top of mind for many Iowans.  We passed multiple pieces of legislation this session that will make our schools safer for students, teachers, and staff.  Here are some of the specific bills we passed last session.

While looking at things we could do to improve safety in Iowa schools, we discovered that several districts lacked a high quality emergency response plan.  To address this, we passed legislation that requires school districts to coordinate with local law enforcement to develop a plan that works for them.  This will ensure that in the event of an emergency, schools will be prepared to respond effectively to protect students and staff.

In the funding flexibility bill that I discussed earlier, we added language that will allow schools to direct more funding to hire school security personnel.

We also passed a bill that requires all licensed school staff to go through annual suicide prevention and adverse childhood experience training.  This will help teachers and school administrators identify potential problems or signs that may lead to a student harming themselves or others.

School safety is something that Iowans deeply care about and the Legislature is being proactive to ensure schools have the tools and resources needed to keep kids, teachers, and staff safe.  We will continue to look for other opportunities in the future.

Even though we have adjourned for the year, please let me know if I can help in any way.  During the interim, I would love to hear your ideas and feedback on this legislative session and what you’d like to see accomplished next year.  I can be reached by email at Linda.Upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-3521