The Courtney Report: School Funding And Mental Health Vetos

Courtney Report

We haven’t had a Courtney Report for a while. This one is particularly timely since it concerns the Governor’s ill advised line item veto of of part of the school funding.

This is an excerpt of the Courtney Report. To view the whole report please go here.

SPECIAL SESSION NEEDED TO PROTECT MIDDLE-CLASS IOWANS

This year, Senate Democrats fought long and hard for education, health care, jobs and public safety initiatives that will strengthen Iowa’s middle class. We hoped to accomplish much more, but after five months of negotiating, we opted for compromise over gridlock.

Unfortunately, Governor Branstad ignored many key bipartisan compromises, vetoing them just minutes before the start of the Fourth of July holiday. His vetoes will hit Iowa students, workers and families particularly hard by:

• Jeopardizing quality at our K-12 schools.

• Ending a tuition freeze at our state universities.

• Making our community colleges more expensive.

• Eliminating treatment options for families coping with severe mental health issues.

Strengthening Iowa’s middle class depends on smart investments in the economy, education and health care. Given Iowa’s strong fiscal outlook, the Governor’s vetoes make no sense to a majority of Iowans.

While state revenue growth is strong, we continue to budget according to the most conservative projections of the state’s nonpartisan revenue estimating panel. Republican and Democratic legislators worked in a bipartisan way to avoid using one-time money for ongoing needs, and our budget ultimately spent less than the Governor’s did.

There is bipartisan support for a special session of the Legislature to override the worst of the Governor’s vetoes. Two-thirds of Senators and Representatives must sign a petition to initiate a special session. Republicans worked with us on this year’s final budget agreement, so I am hopeful that they will agree to patching some of the holes left by the Governor.

If you believe schoolchildren, college students and Iowans needing mental health treatment deserve better, make your voice heard. We must continue fighting together for Iowa’s future.


EDUCATION VETO IS BAD FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH

The Governor’s veto of funding for our schools, community colleges and state universities will result in higher tuition, more kids in classrooms and fewer educational opportunities for students.

Iowa’s improving economy makes it possible to do more for our students and schools. The state has a billion dollars in savings, but as support for our public schools has become divided along party lines, Iowa’s investment has dropped to $1,600 less per student than the national average.

I was proud during the 2015 session to join bipartisan efforts to boost student achievement and keep college affordable for working families. Legislators negotiated for months on K-12 funding before reaching a compromise that provided an additional $56 million for our schools this fall.

Governor Branstad’s veto of that funding means districts will receive a 1.25 percent increase over last year. That’s not enough to keep up with inflation, let alone make up for several lean years since the recession. Such a meager increase has already resulted in more than 1,000 pink slips for Iowa teachers.

When our students graduate from high school, opportunities for college and job training should be as affordable as possible. Taking on massive debt is another roadblock to achieving success, to strengthening our middle class and to growing our economy.

We had hoped to freeze tuition for resident undergrads at our state universities for a record third straight year. The Legislature also provided funding to keep tuition costs down at our 15 community colleges, the first place many Iowans go for job training, college credit and continuing education. The Governor’s veto means students likely will see a bigger tuition increase during the upcoming school year.

We can invest in education at all levels and balance the budget responsibly. Educational opportunity is key to Iowans economic growth, and economic opportunity is directly related to education funding. It creates a positive cycle that helps our state attract businesses and jobs—the types that will strengthen Iowa’s middle class.

VETO OF MHI FUNDING HURTS VULNERABLE IOWANS

As part of ongoing efforts to improve mental health services, we voted this year to make it easier for Iowans to receive mental health and substance abuse treatment closer to home. This included a bipartisan plan to keep all four of Iowa’s mental health institutes (MHIs) operating.

Republican and Democratic legislators reached an agreement to keep the Mount Pleasant MHI open and to seek a private provider to run the Clarinda facility. Yet Governor Branstad refused to acknowledge the will of Republican and Democratic legislators – as well as the majority of Iowans — when he vetoed the funding we provided.

These facilities have offered critical services, including special psychiatric treatment for seniors and inpatient help for dual mental health and substance use disorders. With the facilities now closed, family members must drive hours to attend to loved ones housed in other parts of the state; sheriffs have to transport patients great distances instead of attending to issues in their communities; and hospital emergency rooms could fill up even faster than they have in the past.

The Governor justifies his veto of funding for the two MHIs by saying they are outdated. However, former patients and staff describe the facilities as modern, efficient operations that provide services not always available in other locations.

In addition, health service providers, public safety officers, religious leaders and advocates have been critical of the Governor closing Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. Iowans rallied to demonstrate widespread community and statewide support for the MHIs, which provide skilled, caring staff to help people who have nowhere else to turn.

Public safety and medical professionals say Iowa has a mental health crisis. That crisis may get worse now that more than 80 employs have received layoff notices effective June 30 and the doors have closed at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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