News from Des Moines
This week the House Republicans released our plan for a comprehensive school finance package. Since 2011 the Iowa legislature has become a leader in K-12 funding, increasing school funding by $735 million over that period. This represents roughly $1,000 per student, or $25,000 for a class of 25 students, providing increased funds for textbooks, salaries, and other necessities. These increases have allowed Iowa to employ 2,363 more full-time teachers, lowering the student to teacher ratio to 13.5, a lower level than in 2011. Iowa is now recognized as fourth in the nation in terms of funding increases, demonstrating that the House Republicans have made K-12 education a top priority while other states have made spending reductions. This increased funding is paying off with Iowa leading the nation in high school graduation rates and ACT scores among the best.
This Fiscal Year 2019 K-12 plan includes a proposed increase in Supplemental State Aid of $32 million and we are on track to have that passed within the first 30 days of the session.
The House plan also proposes to create a Transportation fund for K-12 schools. Our public schools face a wide variance in terms of per student transportation costs. Some urban schools have annual transportation costs as low as $50 per student, while some of the rural districts can exceed $1,200 per student. Since school funding per student is relatively the same across the state, this leaves our rural schools with considerably less money per student for the classroom, a long-standing inequity that must be corrected. This year we propose to invest $10 million to reduce these transportation cost inequities, allowing schools to free up general funds for other educational expenses.
In the 2017 session the House Republicans championed legislation to give our schools greater flexibility and control over their affairs and finances. Changes to the public sector union laws known as Chapter 20 gave our school boards and administrators greater control over labor agreements. Other legislation gave our schools greater flexibility over their categorical funds and gave them Home Rule. This session we will continue that work with more legislation giving the schools greater flexibility over their funds so that the schools can set their own priorities.
The House plan will also address school infrastructure needs. In 2008 the legislature created the SAVE fund (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) which consisted of a 1 percent sales tax distributed to the schools based on student enrollment. These funds were limited to infrastructure projects and property tax relief, not for salary and other school expenses. The SAVE fund expires in 2029 which makes it difficult for schools to bond against that revenue because bonding usually requires a 15-year payback. The House Republicans will work to extend the SAVE fund beyond 2029 so that schools can continue to benefit from these funds, but with some reforms to how the fund can be used. When passed in 2008 the SAVE fund was passed with the intent of improving crumbling school infrastructure. Unfortunately, a few school districts have used these funds for the construction of elaborate athletic facilities. The reforms may also direct more of the SAVE fund toward reducing property taxes for homeowners as well.
I was honored to have Pastor Brian Oliver of the Tama, Toledo, and Montour United Methodist Churches join us in the capitol as Pastor of the Day and give the opening prayer on Thursday before the full House.
State Rep. Dean Fisher can be reached at 641-750-3594 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org