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.