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Week Fourteen - Expanding School District's Opportunities

Both the House and Senate are working on a fiscally responsible budget in the final days of this year’s session. This process is moving quickly and consensus has been a common theme this week. Senate Republicans believe it is possible revenues will continue to lag behind expectations. The most appropriate budget is one that conservatively and sensibly plans for the future, and takes the steps to prevent any mid-year budget cuts when we come back again next year. The budget will include our earlier commitment of a $40 million increase in K-12 education spending.

Education has been a priority for Republicans in the Senate this session. Our schools have operated under cookie cutter policies that often do not reflect their district’s priorities or capabilities. The Senate previously passed reforms to the statewide student assessments and addressed equity funding for transportation and per-pupil costs. This week we debated and passed two bills expanding funding flexibility for Iowa’s school districts.

House File 564 provides new allowable uses for specific funding received by school districts and requires the Board of Education to give deference to school boards when the Board of Education adopts rules.  It lifts restrictions previously put on a series of funds for education, giving more local control to our schools, and letting them decide better ways to use their funding. The bill applies to funding related to professional development, at-risk/dropout prevention, preschool, and student activities. It permits the purchase of textbooks and curriculum materials from the professional development fund, if schools include professional development as part of the cost, and allows for preschool funding to be used for age-specific playground equipment and translation services for preschool students.

House File 565 allows for the creation of a Flexibility Account within the General Fund of each school district to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding. This also allows the district to use those funds for purposes of the original source or other general fund purposes. The account, as a part of the school district’s General Fund, would consist of unused funds from the Home School Assistance Program, preschool funds, and professional development funds. Those funds could then be used for preschool programming, professional development purposes, Home School Assistance Program purposes, at-risk/dropout prevention programming, Talented and Gifted programming, or other general fund purposes.

The Senate also passed House File 569 expanding the number of 403(b) tax-sheltered investment programs recognized by the Department of Administrative Services. These are strictly voluntary to mainly educators who seek another avenue for retirement investment. This plan is supplemental to the state pension and social security programs.

These changes will allow schools to be more versatile with their budgets and use your tax dollars more efficiently at the local level through the school boards. These bills still need the Governor’s signature, but if signed it will remove outdated policies and allow for growth and advancement in Iowa’s schools.

From my family to yours, I wish you a Happy Easter!