Excerpts from Sen. Tom Courtney’s weekly legislative report. The full newsletter can be found here:
IOWANS WANT GREAT LOCAL SCHOOLS
Iowa leaders, parents, students and teachers are calling on Governor Branstad and lawmakers to make our local schools a top priority again. They’ve launched a new organization to connect concerned citizens across the state.
Called Parents for Great Iowa Schools, the group is fighting to make sure every child in Iowa gets a world-class public education that will prepare them for the 21st-century economy, generate the skilled workforce Iowa needs, and encourage problem-solving, critical-thinking, creative and innovative young people.
Iowa’s public schools provide education for about 475,000 elementary, middle school and high school students. That means the short- and long-term effects of underfunding our public schools could be significant. In the short term, our students need access to the best teachers and techniques in a top-notch setting. In the long term, they must be able to address life’s challenges and contribute to their communities as thoughtful adults.
Last month, school leaders told lawmakers another year of inadequate state funding would force them to pack more students into classrooms, rely on old textbooks and technology, and cut back on literacy efforts.
That’s bad news when you consider that at least 22 percent of Iowa third-graders last school year failed local reading tests. Starting next year, any student who is substantially deficient in reading at the end of third grade will have to take a summer reading program or be held back.
Local schools need to know they’ll get adequate funding in a timely way. In addition, the Iowa Department of Education is asking for additional money specifically for summer school and literacy efforts throughout the state. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad’s budget does not call for funding these critical requests, even though he wants to hold kids back if their reading isn’t on par by the end of third grade.
If you share these concerns, go to www.parentsforgreatiowaschools.com to sign a petition encouraging Iowa lawmakers to invest in public schools again. You can also follow the Parents for Great Iowa Schools group on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ParentsforGreatIowaSchools.
PROTECTING THE HEALTH CARE OF IOWANS
This week, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate to stop Governor Branstad’s unilateral decision to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid program.
I’m supporting this legislation—Senate Study Bill 3081—because many of my constituents tell me that the Governor’s plan tries to do too much, too fast, and it fails to protect vulnerable Iowans. There is no excuse for putting the health and wellbeing of more than 560,000 Iowans at risk.
Specifically, the legislation directs the Iowa Department of Human Services to immediately terminate contracts with three private out-of-state managed care companies.
As an alternative, the legislation calls on Iowa to continue improving patient outcomes, increasing access to care and making the existing public management of Medicaid more efficient. This common sense legislation is necessary because Iowa still isn’t ready—even after a 60-day delay—to implement a privatized Medicaid system operated by for-profit, out-of-state companies.
Since the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a delay in privatizing Iowa’s Medicaid system in mid-December, we have seen no evidence that state officials and private companies have taken the steps to ensure the health and wellbeing Iowans receiving Medicaid services.
The main concerns I’m hearing from constituents include:
* Arbitrary and unrealistic implementation timeline
* Failure to establish adequate provider networks in advance
* Disruptions of longstanding patient-provider relationships
* Diminished quality and access to health care services
* Compromised patient care
* Inadequate communication with patients and providers
You can review Senate Study Bill 3081 on the Iowa Legislature’s website at http://tinyurl.com/hsoh46l.
SENATE BUDGET WILL EXPAND MIDDLE CLASS
Expanding Iowa’s middle class and maintaining fiscal responsibility are key elements of the state budget proposed by Senate Democrats this week.
Our number one goal is to make investments that will grow Iowa’s middle class. We propose strategic investments to help Iowa workers gain new skills, improve local schools, grow Main Street businesses, and create more cultural and recreational opportunities.
Our plan calls for $7.4 billion in general fund spending. Iowa law allows the Legislature to spend up to 99 percent of available revenues. Our budget is below that level, which means we’ll end the year with a surplus and full rainy day accounts.
According to December estimates by the state’s nonpartisan Revenue Estimating Conference, our budget proposal works out to 98.9 percent of available revenues, which is less than what Governor Branstad wants to spend.
We are announcing our budget proposal early in the legislative session in hopes of avoiding the budget gridlock of recent years. Iowans want us to focus on their priorities, not bickering about numbers.