Iowa State House Representative District 60

Imbalance continues in K-12 school funding, Iowa Ideas panel says

Imbalance continues in K-12 school funding, Iowa Ideas panel says

CEDAR RAPIDS — If education funding in Iowa received a grade, some education experts and legislators said Friday that it would be a poor one.

Discrepancies in funding equality affects almost half of all of Iowa’s 333 school districts, Superintendent of the Davenport Community School District Art Tate said during a panel at The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas conference.

Tate said his district has been shortchanged about $2.7 million a year due to the spending formula. With 66 percent of his students on free or reduced-price lunch, he said, “There are not enough assets to serve our students.”

Before the 1970s, public schools in Iowa mostly were funded through local property taxes until the state increased its aid as a portion of the school funding formula.

The formula allows for some districts to spend as much as $175 more per students than others, meaning an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars for some schools’ general funds.

Although state lawmakers review the funding system every five years, state Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said nothing has been fixed.

“The legislature does not have the political will to get it done,” Mascher said.

Friday’s panel came on the heels of school board elections and several bond votes throughout Eastern Iowa last week. The Iowa City Community School District, for example, passed the biggest bond in state’s history when voters approved the $191.5 million bond for facilities projects. Linn-Mar School District, however, failed to pass its $80 million bond.

The panel discussion also turned to how funding should be allocated, a topic to be discussed in the upcoming state legislative session. School districts currently receive an increase in the percentage of state supplemental aid from the budget, depending on overall revenue.

State Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls and chairman of the Iowa House education committee, said he predicts legislators to start at the current standing of 44 percent of the state’s general budget “and go from there.”

“The biggest thing tightening our budget is Medicaid,” Rogers said. “There’s been a six percent increase overall budget-wise (in Medicaid funding) over the last 10 years.”

But Tammy Wawro, Iowa State Education Association president, pushed back, saying that having a percentage of an unknown number — as the general budget depends on still-incoming revenue — leaves much to the unknown.

“That doesn’t help us plan or make me feel comfortable about where we’re at,” Wawro said.

Instead, Wawro said teachers should be guaranteed a baseline within their incomes and benefits. This would be key, she said, in recruiting and retaining quality educators in the state’s districts.

“If we cannot be competitive with states outside of Iowa, we are going to be in a world of hurt and we are not going to see kids staying in the state to teach here,” Wawro said.

In a discussion on school transportation, Rogers said there’s a need for more innovation and efficiency.

Allocating large portions of their state aid on their transportation can force some school districts to cut advanced-placement courses and other programs, Wawro said.

Mascher also said a solution for rural schools, which struggle to offer more programs, can be found in an initiative through the Iowa Department of Education that offers high school courses online.

However, just having conversations on these issues could show that effort is being made in the right direction.

“Putting the stake in the ground is huge, but I think we’re there,” Tate said.

Written BY: Michaela Ramm – The Gazette

**Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls) speaks on a panel about education funding at the Iowa Ideas conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Over 200 speakers and 600 attendees gathered to discuss the ideas affecting Iowans across various disciplines. (Photo Credit – Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)**

Rogers ready to work with Reynolds

CEDAR FALLS — When the Republican Women of Black Hawk County began their June meeting, they paused to marvel at how far they’d come since they met two months ago.

Iowa has a woman — and a Republican one — as governor for the first time.

They had another reason to be in good spirits. The meeting was a chance to look back on a state legislative session they felt made gains toward a more conservative future.

 State Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, talked about legislative accomplishments, the 2018 session ahead, working with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the 2018 election with Reynolds and her likely running mate Adam Gregg topping the ticket.

“I’m excited for Gov. Reynolds. It’s neat to say that, isn’t it? Gov. Reynolds,” Rogers said. “I look forward to working with her.”

He said the two have been friends going back to a campaign school they both attended in 2008. They have worked closely with each other on education issues during the past legislative session, particularly with her role in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — advisory council.

“I look forward to working closely with her and her team to make education the best it can be in Iowa,” Rogers said. “There are some things we can do to make it more efficient but more … effective.”

Rogers said Reynolds has regularly sat in on meetings as lieutenant governor so she is ready to step into the lead role now that former Gov. Terry Branstad has been named ambassador to China.

Rogers expects her to follow Branstad’s path during the next legislative session and then branch out on her own if elected in her own right.

While one audience member expressed excitement for Reynolds, Rogers cautioned she could face a potentially tough campaign.

“I tend to believe that our economy, we’re starting to see some good things happening, signs of coming back,” Rogers said. “President Trump seems to have done some things that we as electors wanted him to do, and so I think those will be positives, so I’m hoping that economy-wise we’re in at least a growing state. If that’s happening by a year from this fall, I think Republicans will be in good shape.”

He noted Branstad has always been a strong campaigner, but he sees in Reynolds someone likely to bring “even more energy to the process,” and he looks forward to see what her passions are.

Rogers said Reynolds picked a good lieutenant governor in Gregg, but not the best one. He told the Republican women he was a contender and in talks with Reynolds, so he had a different preference. But he said Gregg will bring youth, a good political mind, energy and experience in the internal workings of the executive office.

Describing his feelings about not being selected, Rogers said, “I don’t know if it’s disappointed. The way I look at my political career is whatever doors open I’m going to look at them and potentially go through them. I was honored to be on the list.”

He plans to be a part of the GOP slate in 2018.

“All I know is I’m the education chair, and that’s a big job that I want to try to do the best job I can for Iowa in that role,” Rogers said. “I’ll plan on running again in 2018 … and beyond that, I don’t have any other ideas.”

Source: WCF Courier – Staff Writer – Political reporter at the Courier

Iowa schools are getting a better deal

A recent guest columnist alleged that the Republican-led Legislature has cut funding for K-12 schools (“The truth behind school funding cuts,” May 9). Fortunately for Iowa schools, this is undeniably false as funding has increased by more than $735 million over the last seven years.

Here’s what those funding increases look like:

• FY12 — $178 million

• FY13 — $29 million

• FY14 — $63 million (plus $57 million in one-time funding)

• FY15 — $149 million

• FY16 — $37 million (plus $50 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

• FY17 — $82 million (plus $53 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

• FY18 — $40 million (plus $54 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

Total state investment in K-12 schools now totals nearly $3.2 billion per year, which accounts for 44.5 percent of all general fund spending.

In order to find the last time that schools had their funding reduced by the state, one needs to go back to 2009 when former Gov. Chet Culver ordered two across-the- board cuts, a 1.5 percent and a 10 percent, costing schools $259 million. These across-the-board cuts devastated school budgets and left property taxpayers on the hook to make up the difference.

This hasn’t happened since Republicans took the majority in the Iowa House.

This session, the Legislature’s first order of business was to make budget reductions after revenue estimates were not coming in at the level that was anticipated, due to low commodity prices and the lagging farm economy. From the beginning, House and Senate Republicans, along with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, took K-12 education cuts off the discussion table and held them harmless.

The second order of business in the legislative session was passing a responsible level of funding that schools could depend on. We passed a funding increase of $40 million in the first 30 days of session so that schools could begin planning their budgets.

It’s crystal clear that K-12 schools continue to be a top priority for the Legislature. While most areas of government have seen budget reductions in the last number of years, funding for schools has only gone up.

Another important thing to note is that for the first time in several years, the Legislature actually discussed and passed legislation that addressed a number of education issues outside of how much more money schools would receive. We gave schools more flexibility by easing some of the burdensome restrictions on certain “silos” of funding that accumulated large balances from year to year. We made it easier for districts to use those unused funds on the specific needs of their students and teachers.

We provided schools with home rule authority so that local school boards can innovate and make decisions that are best for their students.

Finally, we started a conversation about funding inequities. Whether it’s transportation costs, English language learning or the per pupil rate, each school has its own unique challenges and opportunities. While no resolution was reached on this subject due to a tight budget, discussions have begun, and we will continue to look into this during the interim.

• State Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, is chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee

Rogers explains his decision to skip forums

I recently stated I will no longer participate in community forums organized by a coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters. Some on the political left have complained about this; I believe it remains the right decision.

I first want to be clear organizations like the League of Women Voters are a key part of our civil society, just like apolitical groups, including the Rotary, Lions Club, Kiwanis, Elks and Shriners and conservative political groups like the Club for Growth and the Iowa Family Policy Center. Civic groups like these, along with churches and families, are the glue that holds our civilization together.

While the League of Women Voters is generally a liberal group, I have participated in the forums for several years. I have done this despite the fact the forums are run by Democratic activists; former Democrat legislators have served as moderators, and a former Democrat county chair serves as timekeeper.

 In the past, I have asked representatives of the forums to consider improvements, to no avail. At the last forum I attended, one of the main topics was collective bargaining laws. The moderator was a representative of a public union lobbying against the changes under discussion. The forum organizers are clearly not providing a neutral environment for discussion.

None of that is new; it has been going on for years, but I have continued to participate anyway, because I want to be as engaged with my constituents as possible. But recently the environment at these forums has changed for the worse; liberal activist groups have become disruptive and disrespectful, and unfortunately, in the case of the extreme left, spew vitriol. My presence at this particular forum is a catalyst for that vitriol. This is not an atmosphere for productive dialogue.

As a state representative, it is my job to take every opportunity I can to listen to the citizens who elected me, whether they voted for me or not, whether they like me or not, and whether they agree with me or not. One way I do this is knocking on doors: I knock on thousands of doors every year, seeking input and asking for support. If you live in my district, I have probably knocked on your door about a dozen times since I first ran for office eight years ago.

Other ways I pursue engagement with my constituents include attending community events and, yes, participating in forums. The Black Hawk County Republicans have held a couple of forums this year; they were upfront about the fact that the forums were Republican in nature, but people with a variety of viewpoints were treated respectfully and civilly.

Moving forward, I am hopeful a truly neutral organization like the Rotary or the Chamber Alliance would consider organizing forums. I am also open and willing to work with League of Women Voters leaders and my Democrat colleagues on a better solution.

Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, represents House District 60.

Walt Rogers to chair Education Committee

Iowa Republican State Representative, Walt Rogers of Cedar Falls, has been named Chair of the Iowa House Education Committee.

Rogers, who represents Iowa House District 60 in Cedar Falls and parts of Black Hawk County, will take over as Education Committee Chair when the 87th General Assembly begins on January 9th.

Voters re-elected Rogers to another term in the recent November election.

Republicans now have control of both chambers of the Iowa Legislature by wide margins.

Written by Ron Steele | Anchor – KWWL

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