The Iowa Legislature is back in session. We are quite happy to once again turn a corner of this blog over to excerpts from the newsletter of State Senator Tom Courtney and occasionally others. The full newsletter can be read here.
CLASS SIZES WILL INCREASE IF SCHOOL FUNDING FALLS SHORT
Another year of inadequate state funding for K-12 schools will result in larger class sizes. That’s what school administrators tell us in a new survey.
Superintendents, principals and other school officials completed the survey in recent weeks to help us better understand the consequences of shortchanging public schools, and to determine the impact of the Governor’s veto last summer of bipartisan school funding.
Underfunding local schools limits educational opportunity for our students. That’s bad for Iowa’s future at a time when business leaders say Iowa needs more skilled workers just to fill current job openings. When we underfund education, we undermine our state’s economy and the ability of Iowa families to get ahead.
In addition to packing more students into classrooms, school leaders say underfunding schools will force them to:
* Delay purchasing books and classroom materials (77 percent of respondents).
* Leave positions unfilled (71 percent).
* Delay new technology purchases (56 percent).
* Cut back on programs that help kids learn to read (43 percent).
An increase of at least 4 percent in basic state aid to schools is what’s needed for the next school year to avoid these types of drastic cuts, according 88 percent of school leaders who responded to the survey.
It’s time to make public schools a bipartisan priority of the Legislature again. We can afford to do it. Our state savings accounts are full at $719 million. That’s a record high level, equal 10 percent of state budget. In addition, we expect to end the year with a surplus of $264 million.
To view complete results from the school administrator survey, go to here.
IOWANS NERVOUS ABOUT MEDICAID PRIVATIZATION
Medicaid is the health care safety net for 560,000 Iowans. One in five Iowans depends on Medicaid for vital health care services, including the elderly, people with disabilities and mental health concerns, children and moms.
Because of an ill-conceived and poorly executed plan by the Branstad/Reynolds Administration, Iowa families may not be able to count on that safety net anymore.
The Governor’s unilateral decision to turn Medicaid and $4.2 billion over to a few private out-of-state companies is fiscally irresponsible and risky to the health of Iowans. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has stepped in to slow down the process until at least March 1, but many are still concerned that the Iowa Department of Human Services and the out-of-state companies will be not be prepared to make the transition by then.
Members, caregivers and families are in turmoil over the major changes to Iowa Medicaid. It could result in increased costs to taxpayers and denial of health care to Iowans. Some providers are unsure they’ll survive the new payment structure.
We will continue to help Iowa patients and local community health care providers as best we can with their individual circumstances.
In addition, Senate Democrats are developing stronger oversight legislation this session. We want safeguards in place to protect Iowans who rely on Medicaid and our local health care providers from potential negative impacts of privatizing Medicaid.
IOWA VETERANS DESERVE OUR SUPPORT
Veterans from across Iowa visited the State Capitol on January 20 for the annual Veterans Day on the Hill. I was pleased to welcome veterans from our district, and to listen to their concerns and ideas.
They had a full schedule of activities, including a special ceremony in the rotunda honoring their service. In addition they had the opportunity to meet Adjutant General Timothy Orr of the Iowa National Guard, Commandant Jodi Tymeson of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director Col. Robert King (Ret.), and members of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs.
The Legislature’s Veterans Affairs Committee has worked in a bipartisan way to expand benefits for our veterans, service members and their families. For example, last year we:
* Provided a stable source of revenue for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund by transferring $2.5 million in lottery revenues each year to the trust fund (SF 323).
* Offered flexibility in using college aid by providing a total of 120 undergraduate credit hours through the National Guard Educational Assistance Program, instead of administering aid by term (SF 130).
* Expanded college credit for military education, training and experience to include National Guard members and Reservists, saving them time and money in completing their degrees (HF 205).
* Ensured a full property tax exemption through the Disabled Veterans Property Tax Credit to veterans who have 100 percent service-connected, permanent disability that makes it impossible to work (HF 166).
* Added “service-disabled veteran” to the definition of targeted small businesses, which are eligible for low-interest loans and grants, as well as consideration when that state seeks bids for goods and services (SF 499).
This year, we continue to explore opportunities to support our veterans, enhance existing services at the state and county levels, help returning service members reenter civilian life, and encourage more veterans to make Iowa their home.
Iowa troops who have answered the call to duty deserve this dedicated support.