February 3, 2017
Republican School Plan Lowest in Six Years; Public Hearing Set
Republican School Plan Lowest in Six Years; Public Hearing Set
Republican leaders in the House and Senate are fast tracking their plan for another historic low increase in basic funding for public schools next year. The level of funding proposed at 1.1% next year is the lowest amount in six years. In fact, seven of the last eight years have been the lowest funding levels in the history of the school aid formula.
Last week, Iowa superintendents said there are severe consequences of inadequate public school funding again next year. The school leaders said they will be forced to raise class sizes, cut teachers, and reduce opportunities for students. They also said underfunding schools again 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%).
Public Hearing Scheduled
To get additional feedback for this crucial decision before the Iowa House votes, Democratic lawmakers called for a special public hearing at the State Capitol. While Republican leaders set the public hearing at a time when many Iowans can’t participate, it will still be held at 11 am on Monday, February 6th in the Supreme Court Chamber. Iowans can sign up to speak by calling 515-281-5129 or online at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/publicHearings?action=viewOnlineSignup&meetingID=24223.
Since many Iowans will be unable to participate, a petition has been launched so Iowans can show their support for kids in public schools. Sign the petition at http://www.iowahouse.org/petition.
The bill, House File 136, is likely to be debated by the Iowa Senate later this week and the Iowa House next week.
Iowa Condition of the Guard Address
As part of his annual Condition of the Guard, the Adjutant General, Major General Orr spoke of the continued work of the Iowa National Guard. Approximately 18,000 soldiers and airmen from the Iowa National Guard have been mobilized around the globe since the start of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
Today, more than 40% of the Iowa National Guard s
oldiers and airmen are combat veterans. This is the highest percentage in the organization’s modern history. Currently, there are 425 members of the Iowa National Guard deployed around the world. This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, and the development of Camp Dodge as a base to help train and prepare soldiers for combat. Throughout this long history, the Iowa National Guard has been guided by four key principles:
The Iowa National Guard also worked to strengthen the partnership with the Republic of Kosovo though the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. Over the past six years, there have been more than 100 engagements between the Iowa government, private entities, and departments within Kosovo. In fact, the government of Kosovo has established their first-ever consulate and trade office within the city of Des Moines. This partnership will continue to grow and be a great benefit for both the people of Iowa and the citizens of Kosovo.
Major General Orr concluded his condition with reiterating that the Iowa National Guard continues to be Mission Focused and Warrior Ready.
Republican Lawmakers Pass Education & Cultural Grants Cuts
On a party line vote, Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have approved a bill that cuts $18 million from Iowa’s three state universities, $3 million from community colleges, $38 million from Medicaid and human services, and $6 million from the Iowa Cultural Trust Fund.
While the state’s economy is still growing, the budget cuts were approved because the majority party spent more than the state took in while approving new corporate tax breaks that now top $500 million annually. Those two factors led to the state’s budget deficit.
While no cuts were made to the Governor’s office, the bill made a total of $88.2 million in cuts and also scooped $25 million from other funds, like the Cultural Trust Fund.
Many lawmakers 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. Many Iowans who came to watch the debate were also concerned about the loss of cultural grants which have a proven tie to economic growth for communities.
The Governor signed Senate File 130 into law on February 1st.
Teacher Loan Program Influences Teachers to Live in Iowa
The Iowa College Student Aid Commission has conducted a survey of first-time Iowa Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program recipients. Results indicate that while the program plays only a small role in most teachers’ initial decision to enter the profession of teaching, the program does influence working teachers’ decisions to live and work in Iowa.
The program offers Iowa teachers working in instructional shortage areas with assistance in repaying outstanding federal Stafford loans. Last year, the program provided assistance to 126 Iowa teachers. The average program award was $5,493. Eligible teachers receive funding for up to 5 years, as long as program eligibility criteria continue to be met.
More information on Iowa College Student Aid Commission financial assistance programs is provided on their website: https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/content/state-grants-scholarships.
Arts Education Promoted at the Capitol
Members of the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education spoke to both House and Senate Education Committee members about the importance of arts education in Iowa, and a newly funded mentoring program.
The majority of art teachers nationally burn-out within three to five years of starting, leaving districts with a hole to fill and retraining demands for a new teacher. This is because new art teachers, including visual arts, drama or music, lack experienced teachers in their content area for guidance. That is why a new program was started by the 2016 Legislature to provide these educators with mentoring from mainly retired teachers in the arts.
Teachers in the mentoring program spoke highly of the support they have received. The program provides critical support for these new art teachers statewide and in-turn enables students to improve their critical thinking, problem solving skills, communication, and creativity. It has already been successfully matched in the field dollar for dollar, but the state funding is in jeopardy.
Mentoring Program in Funding Trouble
The Governor’s budget recommendation for next year does not fund the program. In addition, the recently passed funding reduction bill for this year’s budget could jeopardize current funding. It could be a part of the bill’s unspecified cuts to the Department of Education yet to be realized.
Iowa Utility Board Provides Update
Over the past eight years, the percentage of electricity produced by coal has reduced from over 55% to 37.5%. At the same time, wind production of electricity in Iowa has increased from just under 10% to 34.5%. Petroleum, nuclear, hydro-electric and, other renewable sources have only dropped slightly.
This information was provided by the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to the House Commerce Committee this week. The IUB is a quasi-judicial body that regulates utilities to ensure that reasonably priced, reliable, environmentally responsible, and safe utility services are available to all Iowans. In addition, the IUB takes complaints and concerns from utility customers. During 2016, the IUB had nearly 7,000 contacts. The most common complaints dealt with utility billing disputes, call completion issues, non-payment of bills or payment agreements, disconnection issues, and the winter moratorium and LIHEAP (the low-income home energy assistance program).
The IUB holds monthly meetings on the third Tuesday of each month in Des Moines. The meetings are live-streamed. For more information about the IUB and their meetings, visit: https://iub.iowa.gov.