School Funding, Affordable College, Bipartisan Bills: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report


Disagreements over education funding are preventing the Legislature from adjourning for the year.

Iowa families count on great local schools to give their children and grandchildren a leg up in life. High-quality schools make Iowa workers among the nation’s most productive, which in turn attracts high-skill, high-wage jobs and businesses to our state.

Educational opportunity has long been a key factor in Iowa’s economic growth, and economic opportunity is directly related to education funding. Funding determines if schools can pay teachers and staff, how much one-on-one attention students receive, and whether classrooms have up-to-date materials and technology. Funding will help determine the success of the education reforms launched in 2013.

Today, Iowa invests $1,600 less per student than the national average. Education leaders say a 3 percent increase in funding for our schools is necessary to prevent Iowa from falling farther behind.

Republicans, who control the Iowa House, proposed an increase of 1.25 percent five months ago. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Iowa Senate, approved a 4 percent increase earlier this year and have made several attempts to compromise since.

We are willing to split the difference by giving schools a 2.625 percent increase, which would prevent cuts at most schools. Unfortunately, House Republicans won’t budge. As a recent Quad City Times editorial put it:

“Instead of doing the work of legislating, House Republicans hung fast to their session-opening position of limiting education funding to less than the rate of inflation, assuring unnecessary and harmful education cuts for Iowa schoolchildren.”

So far, the House position has forced schools across Iowa to send out “pink slips” to more than 1,000 Iowa teachers. This is not the way to strengthen student achievement, Iowa communities and our state’s future.

With Iowa’s finances in good shape, this is the year to renew our investment in education and our commitment to a strong economy.

For many, school does not stop with high school graduation. Increasingly, good jobs require higher education or worker training. Iowans of all ages and backgrounds need access to college to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Ideally, these opportunities should be as affordable as possible. Taking on massive student debt is another roadblock to achieving success, to strengthening our middle class and to growing our economy.

Iowa students already graduate with more student loan debt than in most other states. That leads some graduates to leave the state in search of higher paying jobs elsewhere. Yet the Republican House disagrees with us on the importance of college funding.

Community colleges work with employers to address local skilled worker shortages and provide an affordable path to a four-year degree. Senate Democrats propose investing $8 million more in Iowa’s community colleges. House Republicans oppose any increase.

At our three state universities, there will be a tuition freeze for in-state students for a third straight year under the Senate’s budget proposal. Senate Democrats also support an increase in tuition grants for Iowa students attending our private colleges.

In contrast, the budget plan approved by the House Republicans would force students to pay even more for their college education. The House budget actually cuts funding for the University of Iowa, Iowa State and need-based grants to Iowans attending our private colleges.

The budget approved by the Senate Democrats proves we can invest in education at all levels and balance the budget responsibly. We do it with an overall budget the same size as the budget proposed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

As we near the end of the 2015 session, there are many bipartisan issues that have been overlooked in the Iowa House. This includes initiatives to make our communities safer, improve health care and boost quality of life that won the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Senate.

Among them are efforts to:

* Keep all students safe with adequate training for schools to investigate harassment and bullying, including alleged incidents that occur outside of school, and to impose school discipline.
* Combat human trafficking through public awareness efforts, special training for law enforcement officers and making the crime a forcible felony.
* Prohibit the use of GPS to track a person without legitimate purpose or authorization.
* Give adoptive parents time to bond with their new child by requiring businesses with maternity leave programs to give adoptive parents the same time off as birth parents.
* Improve detection of breast cancer by notifying women in their mammogram results if they have dense breast tissue, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer and should consult with a physician about additional screening options.
* Forbid felons from receiving life insurance proceeds if they commit a violent crime against an insured person within the six months prior to the death of that person.
* Provide immunity from prosecution for possessing, sharing or using controlled substances or drug paraphernalia to assist those suffering from an opioid overdose.
The House has a second chance to reconsider these bipartisan ideas because they were included in Senate File 510, which was approved by the Senate on May 14.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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