January 27, 2017

    Iowa School Leaders Send Warning to Legislature
    Republican Lawmakers Release Budget Cut Plan
    Free Tax Preparation Available
    High-Demand Jobs Information Site Now Up
    Upcoming Hunter Education Classes
    Iowa’s Unemployment Rate at 3.6%
    Condition of Education Report
    DNR Releases Strategy for Water Quality Monitoring

    Iowa School Leaders Send Warning to Legislature

    A new survey released last week found 75% of Iowa’s local school leaders will be forced to raise class sizes, cut teachers, and reduce opportunities for students if Republican lawmakers follow through with plans for a 2% or lower increase in basic school funding for next year.

    The survey was completed by Iowa’s superintendents to gather information about the consequences of short changing public schools as well as to determine the impact of historically low school funding in recent years.

    In addition to raising class size, school leaders said underfunding schools next year would force them to delay purchases for books or classroom materials (65%); delay new technology (24%); and cut back on literacy programs (27%).

    The survey found 70% of the school leaders recommended the state provide at least a 4% increase in basic state funding next year, often called supplemental state aid (SSA).

    Lawmakers now have 30 days from when the Governor releases his budget to set school aid for the 2018-2019 school year. After refusing to approve a bill last year, the Republican majority is still one year behind setting school aid for the 2017-2018 school year.

    Republican Lawmakers Release Budget Cut Plan

    After Governor Branstad recommended $150 million in budget cuts a few weeks ago, Republican lawmakers announced their own budget cutting plan on Tuesday. The budget cuts come after the last several years when the majority party spent more than the state took in while approving new corporate tax breaks that now top $500 million annually.

    The Republican proposal identifies a total of $88.2 million in reductions and $25 million in transfers from other funds. The cuts, which will take effect immediately if approved, include an $18 million cut to Iowa’s three state universities, a $3 million reduction to community colleges, $38 million cut to Medicaid and human services, and another $5.5 million cut to public safety. Another $11.5 million in cuts is not specified in the bill and it’s unclear what impact it would have on services to Iowans.

    Many lawmakers have expressed concerns that the mid-year cuts to higher education make it more difficult to achieve Iowa’s goal of having 70% of the workforce receive some training after high school.

    The plan outlined by Republican lawmakers is different than the Governor’s proposal and does not change or scale back any of the corporate tax breaks approved in previous sessions.

    Both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees approved the bills on a party-line vote and debate is expected in the Senate on Thursday.

    Free Tax Preparation Available

    The federal government is now accepting tax returns. Last year, over 20,000 federal tax returns in Iowa were filed using free tax preparation services. The service is open to low-to-moderate income Iowa, elderly, and Iowans with a disability.

    In addition to the free tax preparation service, January 27th is Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day. In 2016, 206,000 Iowa workers received more than $470 million in EITC refunds, with the average refund of $2,279. If an Iowan worked last year and had income of less than $53,505, they should check their eligibility for EITC.

    EITC eligibility can be complex, and varies by income, family size and filing status. By visiting the links below, Iowans can access IRS-trained and certified volunteers who can help them determine if they qualify for the EITC and other refundable tax credits such as the Child Tax Credit or education credits. Volunteers at these sites also prepare and e-file (electronically file) tax returns at no cost. More than 697 volunteers prepared over 19,400 returns during last year’s filing season.

    To find out where and when this free service is available, visit: http://theiowacenter.org/taxes/ or http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/. The Department of Human Services (DHS) partners with the Iowa Center for Economic Success through a federal grant from the Internal Revenue Service.

    High-Demand Jobs Information Site Now Up

    The bi-partisan taskforce working on initiatives to have 70% of the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by the year 2025, has opened their website at http://www.futurereadyiowa.gov. It is a user friendly way to review and evaluate different career opportunities. The website helps identify education and training needed as well as financial resources that may be available.

    The Future Ready taskforce wanted to provide one easily accessible place to find information about education, training, and high-demand jobs. It will be useful for anyone considering their future career plans from high school students to adults already in the workforce to unemployed Iowans.

    The Future Ready Iowa Alliance is charged with making policy recommendations by Oct. 31, 2017, on how to reach the 70% goal. The website also promises to serve as a recruiting tool for the state by showcasing the outstanding education, training and jobs available in Iowa.

    This is the second website released by the Future Ready Taskforce. Last week they released a report on the college readiness of Iowa students that showed 71% of high school graduates enrolled in college or a job training program within a year after graduation. The Postsecondary Readiness Report is located at http://educateiowa.gov/postsecondaryreadiness.

    Upcoming Hunter Education Classes

    Anyone born after January 1, 1972 must take a hunter education course before they are able to purchase an Iowa hunting license. Classes generally last 12-15 hours over a period of 2 to 3 days and are usually free of cost. To receive the hunter education certification, students must attend all of the classes, and pass the final exam.

    To assist in this process, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has scheduled multiple hunter education classes across the state. These classes are taught by certified volunteers and DNR Conservation Officers. The following upcoming classes have spots open:

    Feb. 13, Grimes
    Feb. 14, Osage
    Feb. 20, Glenwood
    March 7, Ottumwa
    March 7, Toddville
    March 9, Muscatine
    March 11, Waterloo

    For more information and to register for a class, please visit: http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Hunter-Education?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

    Iowa’s Unemployment Rate at 3.6%

    Iowa’s unemployment rate currently ranks the tenth lowest in the nation at 3.6% in December, which is down from 3.8% from the month before. Iowa’s unemployment rate was 3.5% at this time last year and the national unemployment rate is currently 4.7%.

    The number of unemployed Iowans stands at 61,200, which is 1,800 higher than December 2016. Professional and business services added the most jobs (1,300), which was fueled by hirings in professional, scientific, and technical services. Other industries adding jobs include manufacturing (900), financial activities (300), and education and health services (300). Sluggish holiday sales led trade and transportation industries to shed the most jobs in December with 1,600 layoffs.

    Condition of Education Report

    The Iowa Department of Education released its annual Condition of Education report which provides a wide range of state-level data, including characteristics and student achievement results. It showed that the number of enrolled students increased for the fifth straight year which includes increases to minority student enrollment. Iowa also continues to have a high percentage of students that take advanced classes.

    The report showed Iowa's ACT score for the class of 2015 was 22.1 (the highest in the nation in states where at least 60% of students participate). There were 68% of the students in the 2016 class that took the test, which is up 1%. Iowa leads the nation in the percent of students that graduate high school in four years, and the report shows that Iowa remains the only state in the nation above a 90% graduation rate. It increased slightly in 2015 to 90.8%.

    Here are some other findings in the report:

    • The number of students enrolled in Iowa’s public schools during the 2015-16 school year was 483,451, up from 480,772 the year before. This represents the fifth enrollment increase in as many years. The smallest and the largest school districts increased enrollment while the ones in the middle declined (300-2,500 students).
    • There were 336 school districts in 2015-16, down two from the year before. There are 333 districts in the current school year.
    • The number of teachers in Iowa remained level at 34,700 for the 2015-16 school year.
    • The percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches continues to increase. In the 2015-16 school year it was 42%, which is an increase of 1% from the year before.
    • Minority student enrollment also increased by 1%, up from 22% the previous year to 23% in 2015-16.
    • The percent of public school students whose primary language is not English (English Language Learners) in the 2015-16 school year remained unchanged at 5.7%.
    • The percent of students from the Class of 2016 who took chemistry was 71%, up from 67% percent the year before. From the Class of 2016, 31% of students took physics, up from 29% the year before.
    • There were 45% of students from the Class of 2016 who took higher-level mathematics, including calculus, statistics, and trigonometry. This is up from 41% percent the year before.
    • Schools in the state that have a bandwidth of at least 100 MB, which is 100 times the minimum bandwidth requirements for digital learning, is 76%.

    DNR Releases Strategy for Water Quality Monitoring

    The Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a five-year strategy to improve ambient water quality monitoring. The DNR Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Section does physical and chemical monitoring of Iowa’s surface and groundwater to provide a “snapshot” of the condition of waters in the state and by collecting many samples over a period of time, can provide an accurate overall picture.

    “Iowa DNR managers and technical staff will use the new strategy to guide decisions affecting the ambient monitoring program over the next five years,” says the DNR’s Roger Bruner. “The strategy should also serve as a robust informational resource for stakeholders, policy makers, legislators, and the public."

    The program worked with stakeholders and other programs within the DNR to develop the five-year strategy. The strategy focuses on monitoring objects, sampling design, data management, products and services, and program evaluation and coordination.

    The strategy is available at www.iowadnr.gov/Environmental-Protection/Water-Quality/Water-Monitoring.