Ed. note: This week’s newsletter comes from the desk of Representative Kirsten Running-Marquard and the staff for Democratic members of the Iowa House.
Although today is the “official” last day of Session, our work is not yet complete. Session is now going past its scheduled end date. There is still grid lock on setting basic funding for our k-12 schools (Supplemental School Aid or Allowable Growth). The House Republicans continue to stay at 1.25% which would result in over 20 teachers getting pink slips in the Cedar Rapids School District alone. We have to do better, and we have the funds to invest adequately in our children’s future. I will continue to fight for our kids.
It looks as though next week we will be moving the Economic Development Budget Bill; I serve as Ranking Member of this committee charged to move this important budget bill forward into law. I also serve on the Appropriations Committee, where all budget bills and legislation dealing with state expenditures move through. The last few weeks of session are busy for the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees.
There are now only a few bills left to pass through the Iowa legislature this year. I will continue to support education, workforce development and smart economic development. These are the three priority areas I see as critical in making Iowa a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Public Schools to Lose Over 1,000 Educators Next Year
The school funding crisis carried on for another week as schools reported there will be over 1,000 fewer educators in Iowa schools next year because of the budget uncertainty. This week, because of the school funding impasse, schools were forced to hand out pink slips to over 400 educators for the upcoming school year. Schools also said they plan to leave at least another 626 positions (which are typically retirements) open next year, meaning class sizes will increase. Despite not knowing how much money they will receive from the state, Iowa school districts were forced to set their budget for the upcoming school year in mid-April.
The school funding crisis started last year when the House Republicans and Governor Branstad refused to set basic state funding for k-12 schools. Democrats have offered a 6% increase, then 4%, then 2.625% in an effort to compromise, but the majority party has rejected every offer to resolve the school funding crisis this year and continue to stay at 1.25%. Again, playing politics with our kid’s education is wrong. What 1.25% means is teachers being fired and larger class sizes negatively impact performance.
Besides raising class size with fewer teachers and raising property taxes, superintendents said they will also be cutting back other opportunities for students because of the budget uncertainty. Art, sports, wood shop, agriculture programs, consumer science, library services, STEM and Talented and Gifted are just a few of the programs being considered by school districts for elimination.
The above information was compiled through a survey of Iowa superintendents. Iowans can learn about the impact of the school funding crisis in their own school district by going to www.iowahouse.org/GOPpinkslip/.
Medical Cannabis Bill Equals Care for Sick Iowans
Iowans gathered at the State Capitol again this week to urge members of the Iowa House to support a medical cannabis bill for those suffering from debilitating diseases, like epilepsy, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. With strong support from the public, many lawmakers are considering a new bill this year to expand the applicability of that law and the availability of the oil for some of our sickest Iowans.
Senate File 484 passed the Senate and moved to the House. Senate File 484 creates a safe and secure medical cannabis program under the supervision of the Department of Public Health and uses the registration cards developed last year to assist with compliance. The bill allows persons with a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, Crohn’s, and multiple sclerosis to apply for a registration card, with verification from their doctor, to allow them to access medical cannabis. The medical cannabis must be manufactured at a licensed facility and all medical cannabis manufactured must be tested at the hygienic laboratory at the University of Iowa for content, contamination, and consistency.
Proponents of SF 484 are encouraging the House to pass the legislation to ensure that patients and their doctors can determine for themselves whether this is a fit for them. Additionally, backers of the bill feel confident that this proposal includes regulation and safeguards to ensure that the cannabis is used only by those who are suffering from a debilitating medical condition. It is very late in session but I and many others hope we can move forward.
New Exhibit Honors Iowan’s Vietnam Soldiers
This year is the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, which effectively ended the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975. More than 865 Iowans were killed in the conflict and five Iowa service members earned the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award for heroism. The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum, at Camp Dodge in Johnston, has a new Vietnam War interactive exhibit including a helicopter display, a utility truck, and other artifacts. A scrollable list of Iowans who were killed in the Vietnam War is available, as are television monitors featuring stories from the Vietnam War, and a full-scale diorama and mural. The Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs will host the 2015 Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day Remembrance Ceremony on Thursday, May 7, 2015. The ceremony will begin at 11:00 a.m. at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located south of the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. If you are from the Linn County area and are planning to attend, please let me know.
Once again Iowa’s legislature becomes the laughing stock of Iowa through its lack of action concerning Iowa schools at all levels. Iowa was once the gold standard for schools in this country and stood well across the world. Thanks to some real as backward leadership we sink every year.
While we give the collective blame to that group “legislature,” the truth is we should be much more specific and narrow it down to “Republicans in the legislature and Governor Branstad.” Led by tea baggers, Republicans these days have just a couple of criteria – cutting taxes for their cronies and then funneling what tax money they do get to those same cronies in sweetheart deals.
We can see both of these in action this year in Iowa’s government. We see Terry Branstad acting as if he is a one man wrecking ball in taking our tax money and handing it to some private for profit company to run Iowa’s portion of the Medicaid program. This will no doubt result in huge profits for that company and a loss of services for those in the Medicaid system through denials and new processes. It is good to be a friend of Terry’s.
But the most cynical is the way Republicans in the legislature have refused to even discuss school budgets, let alone do any serious negotiations. They claim that they are offering a substantial rise in school funding, but in reality theirs is a cynical game that has been played out in states across the nation. As usual Iowa’s Republican party is a party of followers whose last major accomplishment was to do what they could to maintain as much Prohibition in the state even after it was repealed nationally.
The process for wrecking local school systems has an established recipe that various legislatures have followed. It goes like this:
1) cut taxes especially for corporations claiming this will entice businesses to move to your state -(hint: it doesn’t)
2) cut services, especially education which is usually the states largest single expenditure.
3) Schools can not maintain previous standards or meet new more stringent standards due to lack of resources.
4) Schools and teachers (as lazy government employees) are vilified for the perceived failures.
5) the fire of perceived failures are fanned by Republicans up and down governmental offices. Corporate media report such stories without telling the whole story.
6) A few more years of underfunding worsens the problem for school
7) Republican leaders claim for profit charter schools are the answer to the “failure.” (hint: they are worse than public schools)
8) Money is found to pay for charter schools by removing it from the public system.
9) In Iowa, new governor Kim Reynolds will oversee the dismantling of the public school system declaring it “great for Iowa, praise the Lord.”
In an editorial earlier this week, the new blog on the block the iowadailydemocrat.com hits the nail square on the head in chastising Republicans for their cynical actions:
“It’s as predictable as the start of the baseball season, but Branstad’s status-quo approach to nearly everything creates long-lasting and complex harm to everyone involved and causes Iowa to fall behind when it comes to educational excellence. And experts across the ideological spectrum tell us educational excellence is the single biggest factor in whether a given city, state or region succeeds in the global economy.
Branstad’s accomplishments on education for the 2015 session are nonexistent. The Governor may actually be doing more harm than good.
On pre-K (or preschool) education, there’s absolutely no progress. The U.S. Department of Education released its report “A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America” two weeks back. While Iowa ends up near the middle, ranked in the second quartile of states, we’re actually losing ground since 2007 when Governor Chet Culver proposed statewide universal preschool and began providing the funds to make it happen. Branstad singled out that program by name for repeal and has done a fantastic job at hammering away at our 4-year-olds, making sure they don’t all have preschool. Now, 30 percent of our eligible 4-year-olds don’t have access to state-funded preschool. It’s worthy of shame, but the Governor is long past that point in his career.
The K-12 picture isn’t much better as the Governor and Republican legislators are stuck on a below-inflation funding level of 1.25 percent, and the Democrats seem intent on negotiating against themselves now that they’ve adjusted their ask to 2.62 percent. As usual, the two parties will wait until the end of session, far too late for most school districts trying to plan fall budgets and make hiring decisions. They’ll agree on a paltry 2 percent and all go home calling themselves heroes for doing their basic constitutional duty, and doing the barest minimum at that.
At the higher education level, though, Iowa is drowning by comparison with states that are serious about higher education. The Regents are spending more than a million dollars on two out-of-state consultants whose job is to find places to cut at the three state universities, all while attendance costs go up every year and student debt for Iowa’s public universities ranks 6th in the nation. (Did you realize the cost of books and supplies, over and above tuition, is north of $1,200 a year at our state schools?)”
In a few short years Iowa has moved from the top of the heap to the middle in a slide that has us headed down to eventually challenging Mississippi for the bottom if the trend continues. But it should be noted that other once proud states like Kansas will be fighting us for that position. But will we ever really know when for profit corporations are in charge of our educational structure and it will be nearly impossible to measure?
House Leadership has “moral obligation” to allow vote on medical cannabis
Prepared remarks by Senator Joe Bolkcom given during floor debate today
I heard today that the Iowa House won’t be back at the statehouse, ready to debate until Wednesday.
Is that really true? I can hardly believe it.
Sick and suffering Iowans are asking for our help. The Iowa Senate has approved a responsible way to get them the medicines they need. And the Republican majority of the Iowa House is taking two days off?
That is appalling. It is shameful. This legislation is the ONLY chance these suffering Iowans have.
Denying them a vote, a vote which would likely be successful, would be cruel and mean-spirited.
Washington is broken on this issue. Washington can’t solve this problem. That’s why 23 states created their own medical cannabis systems. That’s why Iowa should do the same.
Families affected by cancer, MS, Epilepsy, AIDS, PTSD, and other painful, long-term conditions simply want a safe, legal, affordable way to access helpful medicines.
The overwhelming majority of Iowans are ready to help.
This isn’t just any issue. It is a life and death for many of these patients.
If the leadership of the Iowa House wants to deny medicine to Iowans who need it, they should at least have the decency to allow a vote on Senate File 484.
In fact, I believe House leaders have a moral obligation to allow a vote on medical cannabis before this session ends.
Note: this is an editted version of Senator Courtney’s newsletter. For the whol newsletter, please go here.
ENSURING COLLEGE STUDENTS CAN AFFORD THE EDUCATION THEY NEED
We’re working to keep college affordable so that all Iowans get the educational opportunities that lead to great jobs. Almost half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in Iowa come from our private colleges and universities. Iowa Tuition Grants help them pay their way.
Iowa Tuition Grants are awarded to Iowa residents enrolled at Iowa’s private colleges and universities. Priority goes to applicants with the greatest financial need. The exact amount each student receives depends on the funding available and number of students awarded grants. Students may receive grants for up to four years of full-time, undergraduate study.
With the funding we are proposing for Iowa Tuition Grants in this year’s Senate Education Budget, the maximum annual award would be an estimated $5,000 per student next year—up from $4,550 per student this year. For the 2013-14 school year, almost 15,000 students received the grant, which is matched by their school.
Iowa is one of 11 states that have scholarship programs specifically for students attending private colleges and universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A survey from the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs shows that Iowa dedicates almost 80 percent of its need-based grants to resident students attending private colleges and universities — well above the national average of 28 percent.
A boost in the Iowa Tuition Grant will ensure more students can afford the education that’s right for them, which is an important part of our efforts to expand Iowa’s middle class. For more on grants, scholarships and other help to pay for college, go to www.iowacollegeaid.gov.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BUDGET IS GOOD FOR IOWA WORKERS
Senate Study Bill 1281 contains an Economic Development Budget that will expand Iowa’s middle class and move our economy forward.
The state’s Economic Development Budget funds Small Business Development Centers, research and economic development at our state universities, arts, cultural and historical projects, worker safety programs, and employer and worker assistance through Workforce Field Offices.
This year, Senate Democrats have proposed a budget that:
• Increases trade assistance for Iowa small businesses to expand their sales to national and international markets.
• Provides funding for an initiative to match returning veterans with jobs at Iowa companies.
• Invests in public transit systems that provide Iowans with transportation to and from work.
• Increases funding for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors.
• Increases funding for more wage theft investigators at Iowa Workforce Development.
In addition, the budget provides for financial assistance for businesses to locate and expand in Iowa, and for our state universities to work with businesses on research, development, marketing and entrepreneurship.
HEALTH CARE FOR VULNERABLE IOWANS IN JEOPARDY
In January, Governor Branstad surprised Iowans by proposing to privatize almost all of Iowa’s Medicaid system.
Medicaid provides free or low-cost health coverage to just over a half million Iowans who are some of the most vulnerable people in our state. This includes families and children, pregnant women, seniors and people living with disabilities. More than 71 percent of Medicaid dollars go toward services for the disabled and seniors.
In the Legislature, there is bipartisan support for a responsible, cautious approach to making changes with input from stakeholders. That’s the sort of approach that has worked best in other states and has been Iowa’s traditional approach.
Under Governor Branstad’s plan, however, Iowa will make bigger changes faster than any other state regarding health care services for Iowans who need them the most. After a similar transition in Kansas, the Disability Rights Center of Kansas reported that citizens with disabilities were denied services, struggled to navigate the new system and lacked resources to advocate for themselves.
Senate Democrats are committed to providing robust oversight to ensure that Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens don’t fall through the cracks. Earlier this year, the Iowa Senate unanimously approved SF 452. The bill would have created a process to closely monitor the Medicaid transition, ensured that tax dollars are spent wisely and maintained close-to-home access to critical healthcare services. Unfortunately, the Iowa House did not take up the bill.
There’s still time to act this year. Senate Democrats will continue to advocate for proper oversight of Iowa’s Medicaid transition and focus our attention on making sure resources are used wisely for crucial health, disability and senior services.
IOWANS SPEAK OUT ON NEED FOR MENTAL HEALTH INSTITUTES
The Senate’s Government Oversight Committee heard testimony this week from a patient and employees of the state-run Mental Health Institutes (MHIs) that have been targeted for closure by Governor Branstad.
Under current Iowa law, the state must maintain and operate MHIs in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence and Mount Pleasant. The Governor’s unilateral decision to close the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant facilities has drawn criticism from community leaders, legislators and mental health advocates because his plan hurts Iowans who need the critical services they provide. Layoffs have already begun in Mount Pleasant.
A former patient and staff describe Clarinda and Mount Pleasant as modern, efficient operations that provide services often not available in other locations, including inpatient dual substance use disorder and mental health treatment. The facilities have trained, dedicated, professional staff that provide compassionate care to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Anna Short, a former drug abuse counselor at Mount Pleasant, told legislators that Iowa has a mental health crisis. “A lot of our patients are mandated treatment by the courts. If we didn’t serve them, the prisons would house them, and that would cost much more to the state,” she said.
Cindy Fedler, a former nurse at Mount Pleasant, believes the transition is hard on patients, saying, “Just because someone has a mental illness, doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on.”
Ann Davison, a nurse from Clarinda, told the committee that since January 15, Clarinda has received 180 calls from 60 counties asking for help.
Christina, is a former patient at Clarinda, said she needed the inpatient experience and that she would not be here today without treatment at Clarinda.
The Senate has passed two bipartisan bills to address the MHI closures. SF 333 would require the Department of Human Services to admit eligible Iowans to the MHIs through the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The funds to support these services were appropriated by the Legislature and approved by the Governor last year. His administration should now follow through on its commitment to use those funds as approved.
SF 402 would set up a process for the Department of Human Services to develop and implement crucial community-based mental health services. The services must be approved by the Legislature and in place prior to considering MHI closings. The plan would include input from stakeholders and experts, require transitional services without reducing access or quality, ensure ongoing local access to highly trained community and institutional care providers, and identify stable funding for new services.
These bills have been eligible for debate in the Iowa House for weeks but have not been taken up.
ed. note: this is an editted version of Senator Courtney’s newsletter. For the full newsletter, please go here
BUDGET PRIORITIES WILL EXPAND IOWA’S MIDDLE CLASS
This week, the Iowa Senate released a budget proposal that will expand Iowa’s middle class while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Our overall budget is equal to that proposed by Governor Branstad, saves taxpayer dollars and breaks this session’s on-going logjam on school funding.
Our plan calls for a compromise 2.625 percent increase in state support for Iowa’s local schools. It also calls for a tuition freeze at our state universities for the third consecutive year and for fully funding property tax credits and a commercial property tax cut that is especially helpful to our small businesses.
Under Iowa law, the Legislature never spends more than 99 percent of what it takes in. In fact, this year’s Senate proposal is $149.1 million below that 99 percent mark. We use a cautious approach to determining how much to spend by looking at the recent revenue estimates of a nonpartisan panel of experts, then budget according to the more conservative estimate.
Each year, at least 1 percent of the state budget goes into savings accounts, which include a cash reserve fund and an economic emergency fund. This is the money that gets us by in hard times, such as an economic recession or a natural disaster.
With the budget proposal that Senate Democrats released for Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016), we expect to have a surplus of about $225 million when the fiscal year ends. In addition, our reserve funds will be full with $717 million, the largest amount in state history.
Our budget proposal is sustainable, spends less than the state takes in, and invests in expanding Iowa’s middle class by helping workers gain new skills, improving our schools and growing local businesses.
Read more at www.senate.iowa.gov/democrats/?p=20252.
SCHOOL FUNDING FITS INTO STATE BUDGET PLANS
Senate Democrats continue to get public support for our compromise proposal to increase basic school funding next school year by 2.625 percent. That’s exactly halfway between the original Senate and House proposals.
Unfortunately, legislative Republicans refuse to budge, despite widespread reports that their proposal for a meager 1.25 percent increase in school funding would result in more crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and extracurricular activities, and higher property taxes.
The refusal of House Republicans to consider a compromise puts school districts in the impossible position of setting budget priorities before their April 15 deadline without knowing how much money they have to work with. In some school districts, layoff notices already are being sent to teachers and other school employees. One school in central Iowa plans to send out layoff notices to 100 percent of its employees because it doesn’t know what its budget will be for the 2015-16 school year.
Senate Democrats released our overall state budget plan this week. Our plan proves that it is possible to invest in students and schools while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Our budget plan is identical in total general fund spending to Governor Branstad’s budget, and includes our compromise offer to increase school funding by 2.625 percent.
We are constantly raising expectations for students and educators. We must provide them the opportunities to meet those expectations through strong local schools focused on 21stCentury learning. Please continue to make your voice heard on school funding that will prepare our students for the jobs, training and higher education to grow Iowa’s future.
SAFE, SECURE MEDICAL CANNABIS FOR SUFFERING IOWANS
Iowa took a first step last year to help those with epilepsy legally use cannabis oil, which has been shown to dramatically reduce seizures and other complications.
A legislative committee studied our new law last fall and came to the conclusion that it is ineffective because families cannot get the medicine locally, requiring them to break laws or face financial, travel and other hardships to access it elsewhere.
This week, the Senate voted to address those deficiencies by passing SF 484. The legislation establishes a comprehensive, safe and secure medical cannabis program for Iowans seeking relief from debilitating medical conditions. Eleven medical conditions are eligible for the program, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. A medical advisory board is established to recommend the future addition of other medical conditions and to provide oversight of the program.
To address one of the primary failures of last year’s law, four Iowa-based manufacturers will be licensed to produce medical cannabis and 12 dispensaries will be licensed across the state to provide local access. All facilities will be subject to inspection and strict security requirements. The Iowa Department of Public Health will determine the appropriate form and quantity of medical cannabis available to patients, but smoking of medical cannabis will be prohibited.
Establishing a more effective Iowa program is a responsible, compassionate alternative to help suffering Iowans, who currently must use legal but ineffective or dangerous medicines, break the law by obtaining medical cannabis illegally, or leave their homes, families and jobs to move to a different state. According to a recent Des Moines Register poll, Iowans strongly believe that their friends and neighbors with debilitating conditions deserve the same access to medicines already legally available to more than half of all Americans.
In response to the federal government’s failure to act, 23 states, including Minnesota and Illinois, have created regulated systems to provide their citizens with access to medical cannabis. Iowa can draw from the best of these state-level programs. It’s time that suffering Iowans also have access to medical cannabis in a safe and secure manner.
“No one should be getting fired because we aren’t abiding by the laws of this state.”
Remember back in Civics or government class you learned that there was something described as “freedom of religion.” Most likely this concept was explained to you something like this:
Our government has no power to establish one religious sect over any other sect. All sects are equal before the government. Nor does the government have the right to force anyone to engage in religious rites against their will. Courts have ruled over the years that there must be a separation between church and state, meaning that government entities such as public schools or public functions should in no way be used as a time to promote one religion over another.
In the beginning of the country there were those who tried to keep religion completely out of government. Congress met on Sundays and religious holidays. Under Ben Franklin the Post Office delivered mail seven days a week.
Religious zealotry being what it is, it wasn’t too long before sessions of Congress and various legislatures were being opened with Christian prayers. As public schools grew so did the influence of religious folks who pushed hard for Christian prayer in public schools. Whenever these footholds of Christianity in public doings is challenged it is usually met with a hew and a cry such that you would think you had a whale in its death throes.
And so it was on Thursday morning when not-a-christian-but a wiccan named Deborah Maynard gave the opening prayer. Christians responded as expected – like a caged animal that had just been gored. Family Leader, the big kahuna of religulous political groups sent out a sort of call to arms email to its followers. FL’s followers were invited to the capitol to pray for (for?) the wiccan priestess. Other Christians took it upon themselves to battle the bad prayers of another group with their supposed good prayers.
Wish I had been there. Must have resembled some comic book art with zappings and thunder crashing all over the place. Apparently Ms. Maynard survived this proxy war of the gods without harm. Was she insulated by her beliefs, was her god stronger than the christian god or were the christians just horrible at aiming their strikes?
After the battle was over and and the wounded cared for, Republican Dave Heaton issued a statement that made a lot of sense:
“If we want to make a stink about who can do this and who can’t,” Heaton says, “we’re liable to lose the whole thing.”
The conclusion of the article on radioiowanews.com reminded us that:
In 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “sectarian” prayers before government meetings are constitutional, as long as the prayers are “not coercive” and do not require participation by people who do not share the same beliefs. Both the Iowa House and Senate begin their workdays with a prayer or some sort of moment of reflection. Some prayers are delivered by legislators themselves, but often legislators invite a guest to make the remarks.
As with most decisions of the Roberts Court, this one was about as wrong as it could be. Religious practices of any sort have no place in public business at any level. The founders were very clear about that. Our legislature needs to concern itself more with educating future generations and less with getting to their heaven.
But until then, I can hardly wait for the battle that will ensue when someone finally has the guts to invite a few atheists to give a – uh – prayer.
Iowa Democratic legislators apparently still think that Republicans can be embarassed for their silly, pathetic behavior. In this video it is wryly commented upon that Republicans seem more concerned about what kind of pie they are being served than about health care for Iowans (dividing up the actual pie). Yes, it has been obvious for some time that they do care more about themselves and their petty personal concerns than everyone else’s piece of the community pie. But it will have no impact whatsoever to attempt to embarass them for their utterly irresponsible, self-indulgent, frat-boy behavior. They are way beyond giving a damn what anyone thinks.
Attempting to ridicule the Republicans about the pie nontroversy doesn’t work as strategy like, for example, them making fun of John Kerry for “flip-flopping” worked. Here’s why: The pie nontroversy and the “Sex Over Sixty” debacle were both purposeful displays of contempt – contempt for the Democratic process, contempt for their across-the-aisle colleagues, contempt all around. They weren’t caught making a gaffe, they were flaunting their stupid. They know they are getting away with it. They do not fear looking bad.
It is frustrating to watch Democrats still behaving (at least publicly) as if Republicans are operating in good faith when they are in actuality not even trying. They find it amusing that Democrats try to argue with them on the merits of issues when they themselves know that they are making no attempt at creating decent public policy. Far from it. The opposite.
But back to my original point on this video. As long as Democrats choose to make the privatization of Medicaid about the way Branstad plans to privatize (create profits for cronies) Medicaid, rather than continuing to hammer on the terrible fact of what he is doing and why, then they are missing an opportunity to show real leadership by exposing these scoundrels to Iowans.
Dems have conceded all of the ground – they are essentially saying that it is ok for Branstad to privatize Medicaid – he is just privatizing it incorrectly. I get that the way it happens is the only ground left now, but if we made the argument that he shouldn’t be doing it at all, that would be a stronger argument than one that says, please let us have a say in this decision that you are ramming down everyone’s throats, to borrow a phrase.
Good luck with that.
note: this is an edited version of the weekly newsletter. For the full newsletter please go here
DEMOCRATS OFFER COMPROMISE TO END SCHOOL FUNDING GRIDLOCK
In an effort to break a lengthy logjam on school funding at the Statehouse this session, Democrats offered a compromise funding proposal this week for Iowa schools, students, parents and teachers.
Earlier this session, Senate Democrats approved a 4 percent increase in basic school funding, but House Republicans agreed to a much smaller 1.25 percent increase for our schools. That is not enough to keep up with rising costs, let alone compete with other states.
Our schools need to know what to expect so that they can prepare their budgets and make decisions about staffing and course offerings. That’s why we offered a compromise proposal to increase basic school funding next school year by 2.625 percent — exactly halfway between the Senate’s 4 percent and the House’s 1.25 percent.
With a 6 percent increase in state revenues next year, we can afford this compromise. More accurately, we can’t afford to NOT approve this compromise. Iowa is already more than $1,600 below the national average in annual per-pupil investment. The result is that other states are increasing student achievement faster than Iowa and out-performing us.
The compromise proposal was an attempt to break a logjam that is spilling into its third month. Legislative Republicans have refused to budge from their position throughout meetings of a special conference committee tasked with resolving the impasse on school funding set out in SF 171 and SF 172.
Unfortunately, Republicans on the conference committee refused our compromise offer and continue to insist on an increase of only 1.25 percent for our local schools. Widespread reports from local school districts tell us that a meager 1.25 percent increase they insist on would result in more crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and extracurricular activities, and higher property taxes.
I urge concerned Iowans, including parents, students, teachers and administrators, to contact your legislators and the Governor. Encourage them to do the right thing for Iowa’s future by investing in our students and schools.
LEGISLATURE AGREES TO REASONABLE SCHOOL START DATE
Last December, Governor Branstad’s administration told superintendents they would no longer get waivers to start school early, meaning schools would have to start fall classes during the week of September 1. The Governor’s decision to end local control of school start dates immediately created a big problem for schools and parents.
Last fall, 67 Iowa school districts started fall semester classes during the second week of August.
Senate File 227 is a compromise that sets the school start date on or after August 23. It was approved this week by both the House and the Senate.
This legislative compromise ends a major distraction, which has taken attention away from this session’s most important, most pressing education issue: Renewing Iowa’s bipartisan commitment to responsibly investing in our local students and schools.
School funding affects 100 percent of Iowa schoolchildren, parents and teachers, as well as employers and community leaders. We must provide the funding our schools need to boost student achievement and keep the best teachers in our classrooms.
HELPING VETERANS ACCESS THE BENEFITS THEY’VE EARNED
Our veterans deserve to know all the benefits and programs they qualify for. That’s why the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted this week to help veterans access information on ways to apply for benefits they have earned through their military service.
House File 414 won unanimous approval in the Iowa House on March 17. The bill requires that private individuals or businesses offering to help veterans get their benefits for a fee must give all prospective clients a written statement disclosing that veterans may apply for these same services at no charge through a local service organization or county offices. Before entering into an agreement or contract, the veteran must sign the disclosure statement.
The Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs will develop a consumer friendly written disclosure for use by private providers of benefits services for veterans. It will include a statement that veterans benefits services are offered at no cost by federally chartered veteran service organizations and by county commission of veteran affairs offices, and will have contact information on how to access those free services.
A person who violates these requirements faces a maximum civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation. Any civil penalties recovered will be deposited in the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund.
For more information on this or other programs for veterans, contact the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs at 515-252-4698 or go to www.va.iowa.gov.
Celebrate National Donate Life Month
Join the Iowa Donor Network in recognizing National Donate Life Month this April, a chance to motivate more people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. You can become a donor by registering at www.IowaDonorNewtork.org.
There is a big need: An average of 21 people on the organ transplant waiting list die each day; more than 123,000 people are on the waiting list, enough to fill Kinnick and Jack Trice stadiums. In addition, about 600 Iowans are waiting for a life-saving transplant.
Donors make a huge impact. One donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and can enhance the lives of as many as 200 people through tissue donation. The Iowa Donor Network helped transplant 216 life-saving organs in 2014 with tissue from 982 donors.
Heating moratorium ends
The winter home heating moratorium on service disconnections ends April 1. If you are having difficulty paying your energy utility bills, contact your local utility to discuss payment options to avoid service disconnections.
Beginning April 2, customers certified for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or Home Weatherization Program could be subject to electric or natural gas service disconnection for unpaid bills. LIHEAP funds are limited, but applications are still being accepted by local Community Action Agencies through April 30.
For more information about low-income energy assistance, go to www.dcaa.iowa.gov/app_sites/liheap_map.html.