Iowa State House Representative District 60

Walt’s Legislative Newsletter Week 3

Sustainable, Long-Term Funding for Water Quality

After three years of working on water quality legislation, the Iowa House passed a bipartisan bill that establishes a dedicated, long-term source of funding for water quality projects across the state.

The bill provides $282 million in new funding over the next 12 years to make improvements in water treatment infrastructure and continue implementation of the research-based Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  This bill focuses efforts on both urban and rural improvements.

Last year, more than $400 million was invested into water quality efforts across the state.  The passage of Senate File 512 will increase funding even more and bring about historic levels of investment.

This bill makes improvements that will ensure Iowans have access to clean drinking water and that natural resources are preserved for future generations.

This is not the end of the discussion however.  House Republicans are committed to continue working on water quality issues and will look for opportunities to keep Iowa’s lakes, rivers, and streams clean.

Ensuring Managed Care Works for Iowans

The transition to managed care is improving, but House Republicans recognize that there are still challenges with the system and we will continue to work hard to support patients and providers in their districts.

In her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds acknowledged that mistakes have been made in the rollout of managed care but made a commitment to make it right.  She has brought in new leadership to manage the program, with experience and expertise in managed care.  The Governor’s office has already begun working on solutions to improve the system.

Almost 40 other states are using managed care for their Medicaid programs and have successful programs.  There is no reason Iowa can’t be successful as well.

The reality is that if we go back to the government-run system, costs will again skyrocket which would result in cuts to K-12 education and/or tax increases.

We need managed care to work so that the sustainability of the program is not at risk for vulnerable Iowans in the future.

Pictures from the Hill

Students from Hawkeye Community College were here for Community College Day. Representative Koester and I visiting an Iowa Reading Corps site at Kate Mitchell Elementary in Ames.  They partner with United Way to improve literacy.

Walt’s Legislative Newsletter Week 2

Broadening the Conversation on K-12

Education for Iowa’s children has always been one of our top priorities.  Last session, we broadened the conversation on education to topics other than the annual discussion over funding.  We increased investment in K-12, provided more flexibility, and put more decision making in the hands of locally elected school boards and administrators.  House Republicans will continue efforts to provide a world-class education for Iowa’s students and modernize our K-12 system for the 21st century.

Funding

Iowa is a leader in K-12 education funding, investing an additional $735 million since 2011.  These investments have brought total annual spending on K-12 to nearly $3.2 billion, accounting for 45% of the state’s entire budget.  Iowa is fourth in the nation in K-12 funding increases.

We have continually made K-12 education funding a top priority for the state.  While other areas of the state budget have seen reductions in recent years, House Republicans have protected schools from any cuts during this time.

More Flexibility and Local Control

Last session, I personally led the fight to pass legislation that gave schools unprecedented flexibility over their resources and home rule authority.

We will continue to look for opportunities to provide schools with even more funding flexibility so districts can better meet the specific needs of their students and teachers.  We also believe that local control is crucial in education and will continue to empower locally-elected school boards so they can innovate and govern their schools in a way that is best for them.

Future Ready Iowa

With Iowa’s unemployment rate at a 17 year low, most Iowans that want a job have found one.  However, what we have heard is that while unemployment is low, many Iowans lack the training or experience needed for high-paying careers that employers are trying to fill.

We will be looking for opportunities this session to connect our K-12 schools with community colleges and local businesses to create a workforce pipeline across the entire state.

Governor Reynolds has said that building a skilled and prepared workforce is her top priority this session and has proposed the Future Ready Iowa Act.  She has set a goal for 70% of Iowa’s workforce to earn some sort of postsecondary degree or certification by 2025.

The Future Ready Iowa Act will help reach this goal and We will be working closely with Governor Reynolds to ensure that future generations of Iowans are prepared for the careers and emerging industries of tomorrow.

SAVE Fund 

House Republicans will also have a discussion this session about reauthorizing the SAVE penny that schools use for infrastructure.  SAVE was passed by the Legislature in 2008 which provided schools with much needed funding for infrastructure improvements.  We will be working with local school boards and administrators to determine appropriate uses of the fund.

Don’t Believe the Hype on IPERS

Don’t listen to fear mongering scare tactics.  There will be no changes to IPERS this session.

This week, the House State Government Committee met and received an update from IPERS officials.  With over 355,000 IPERS members and an 81.4% funded ratio, IPERS is well-managed and remains one of the most sound pension systems in the entire country.

House Republicans would never do anything that jeopardizes the retirement security of Iowans.

IPERS beneficiaries should also be thankful with the boom in the stock market that has occurred since President Trump took office.  Between June 30, 2016-June 30, 2017, IPERS assets grew by $2.44 billion, about $203.3 million in growth per month.  During the previous two years, they only grew by $290 million, $12.1 million per month.

** Walt, sitting in the Speaker of the House chair on Wednesday morning to gavel in the assembly for the day. **

Walt’s Legislative Newsletter Week 1

The 2018 Legislative Session Convenes

According to a recent study, Iowa is the third best managed state due to strong fiscal responsibility, a AAA credit rating, lower than average government debt, and a well-managed public pension system.  Another study says that Iowa is the best state in the country for middle class families because of affordable housing, low college tuition and low child care costs.

Additionally, our unemployment rate is at its lowest point in 16 years, we lead the nation in high school graduation rates, and we are a leader in K-12 education funding.

Education

The Governor’s Thoughts on Education 

Governor Reynolds budget is supporting an increase of $54 million for schools through the school aid formula.  This equates to a 1.5% increase in the Supplement State Aid (SSA) amount with some additional changes, namely the continuation of last’s reduction for Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and the continuation of the state picking up the property tax increase that results from setting SSA (Property Tax Replacement Payment or PTRP).  With this change, state support for schools would increase from $3.180 billion to $3.234 billion.

School Choice

The Governor also mentioned an additional option for school choice.  Iowa has a couple of options currently available to families, namely open enrollment (where a student can enroll in a public school district other than their home district), and school tuition organizations (STOs, a program allowing in-need students financial support to attend a non-public school of their choice).  There have been discussions in past years about established Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) which give parents the opportunity to find the best educational setting for their child and receive their share of state support in order to access that setting.  The Governor mentioned a new option in her speech: the ability to use 529 plans to pay for non-public, K-12 tuition expenses.  529 plans are tax-deferred contribution plans that parents can use currently to save money for their child’s college tuition in the future.

Moving Forward with Managed Care

House Republicans recognize that there are still issues with the transition of Medicaid and will be working hard to support patients and providers in their districts.

In her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds acknowledged that mistakes have been made in the rollout of managed care but made a commitment to make it right.  She has brought in new leadership to manage the program, with experience and expertise in managed care.

Almost 40 other states are using managed care for their Medicaid programs and have successful programs.  There is no reason Iowa can’t be successful as well.

The reality is that if we go back to the government-run system, costs will again skyrocket which would result in cuts to K-12 education and/or tax increases.

A Fairer, Simpler Tax Code

This week Governor Reynolds’ Condition of the State address outlined the broad themes and goals she had for tax reform this session and in the future.

Her speech first explained that although the recently enacted federal tax reform will be good for Iowans in terms of their federal tax liability—it has some negative state tax liability implications. Iowa is one of three states that have full federal deductibility—this is the ability to deduct from Iowa income (on your Iowa return) the federal taxes you paid. Because our federal taxes will go decrease under the new federal tax reform, Iowans will not have as much federal tax to deduct from Iowa income. This will cause their Iowa tax liability to go up. It was largely because of that potential tax increase on Iowans that the governor recommended eliminating federal deductibility from Iowa’s tax code. She also cited the desire to more permanently free Iowa from the effects of tax decisions made by Congress.

The governor went on to outline that personal income tax rate reduction was the next step in reform. She stated the goal was having Iowans keep more of their hard-earned money. There were no specifics on brackets, rates, or the amount of the reduction—just a rate reduction generally.

Modernizing Iowa’s tax code was also on the governor’s list of priorities. Little details were given on execution of this goal—but general support for main street fairness was evident.

Iowa’s high corporate tax rate was also mentioned as something that needed to be addressed—but the governor stated that this was not the year to do that. Instead, she stated that she would create a bipartisan task force to analyze and review every tax credit for effectiveness and to make recommendations to the legislature next year regarding which incentives were a good return on Iowa’s investment.

Finally the governor concluded that tax reform in Iowa would be a multi-year effort, but that in the end we would have a completely reformed, modernized and more competitive tax code.

Fact Checker: Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State address

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds focused on a handful of primary themes Tuesday n her first Condition of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

The Gazette/KCRG-TV9 Fact Checker team analyzed her measurable statements about Iowa’s workforce, education, mental health care, taxes and opioids and found most were accurate, but with a few misfires.

WORKFORCE

Claim: “Our graduation rate is the highest in the nation, while unemployment is one of the lowest.”

Analysis: The National Center for Education Statistics, in a December report on high school graduation rates, ranked Iowa the top state in the nation for the 2015-2016 school year with 91.3 percent of students graduating within four years.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on statewide unemployment rates, seasonally adjusted, placed Iowa tied with three other states as the fifth-lowest, with a 2.9 percent unemployment rate.

Conclusion: Reynold’s comments on graduation rates and unemployment score her an A.

 

Claim: “Iowa is ranked third-best-managed state in America, and the No. 1 state for middle class families.”

Analysis: For these claims, the Governor’s Office cited a 2015 list by Delaware-based financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St. entitled “The Best and Worst Run States in America.” Iowa ranks third there, with writers citing the state’s bond rating, high school graduation rate and low unemployment rate.

The office cited personal finance resource GOBankingRates’ list entitled “Best and Worst States for the Middle Class” for the claim about middle class families. Median household income, in-state tuition, college grad rates and monthly mortgage payments were considered.

Both websites note content provided is for information purposes and reflect the opinions of their authors, so we remain skeptical of how much weight can be given to either ranking.

Conclusion: Reynolds is accurate on Iowa’s placement on those lists and gets an A on this claim, yet both rankings are somewhat subjective.

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EDUCATION

Claim: “We invested in our kids at a record level, committing $735 million more for education since 2011.”

Analysis: Reynolds’ office pointed Fact Checker to a Gazette guest column by Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, as evidence for this claim.

In his column, Rogers writes that state funding for K-12 schools has increased by “more than $735 million” since fiscal year 2012, which began in July 2011. He breaks down increases for each year and includes state supplemental aid allocated to schools as well as state dollars for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system.

Added together, those increases amount to about $735 million. School aid data from the Legislative Services Agency matches his — and Reynolds’ — claim.

It’s worth noting school administrators and education advocates say those funding bumps have not prevented budget cuts for school districts. Lobbyist Margaret Buckton said legislators have used the school aid formula to deliver property tax relief, so the state’s growing contributions to K-12 don’t translate dollar-for-dollar to districts’ budgets. “Although the state has contributed $735.5 million in additional state dollars, millions of these dollars offset what would have otherwise been local funds,” she said.

Conclusion: While school finance is a nuanced subject, Reynolds was right that the state’s contribution to K-12 education has increased by about $735 million since 2011. She gets an A.

 

Claim: “A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that over the last 10 years, only three states increased education funding at a higher rate than Iowa.”

Analysis: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute in Washington, published the report “A Punishing Decade for School Funding” in November. The authors found public investment in K-12 schools “has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.” But Iowa bucked that trend.

Between 2008 and 2015, Iowa increased total state funding per student, when adjusted for inflation, by 20.6 percent. Only Alaska, Illinois and North Dakota increased funding at higher rates.

Conclusion: Reynolds was right on the money. We give her an A.

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INCOME TAXES

Claim: “Iowa is one of only three states that allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes. While that might sound like a good thing, right now it’s not. It creates complexity, and worse — it means that when your federal taxes go down, your Iowa taxes go up.”

Analysis: A policy brief by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports Iowa, Louisiana and Alabama are the only states to allow a 100 percent deduction for federal taxes. Missouri, Montana and Oregon allow partial deductions or partial deductions for those who itemize.

The Iowa Department of Revenue presented information to the Revenue Estimating Committee stating that when federal taxes decrease, Iowa taxes increase. In other words, if there’s less to deduct, a taxpayer has more to pay.

Conclusion: While Reynolds was partially right in stating only three states allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes, she is on the mark in the larger point that a decrease in federal taxes will cause state taxes to increase. Overall, she gets an A.

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MENTAL HEALTH CARE

Claim: “150,000 more Iowans have mental health coverage today and have access to more local and modern services.”

Analysis: The Iowa Department of Human Services has said nearly 151,000 people were estimated to be enrolled in fiscal 2017 in the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan — Iowa’s version of the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act. This plan covers mental health care.

But many of the Iowans enrolled in program had already received mental health coverage under Iowa’s previous county-based programs, private pay or charity care. It’s hard to know exactly how far off Reynolds is on this claim because it would entail combining historic numbers from 99 counties and also trying to figure out how many people paid out-of-pocket or received charity care.

Conclusion: We gave Reynolds a B on a similar claim last month, but when you look at the broader context, we think a C is more appropriate this time.

 

Claim: “We’ve invested $2 billion in mental health services.”

Analysis: Human Services released a report in December 2016 saying state and county spending for mental health and disability services was expected to be nearly $2 billion for fiscal 2012 through 2017.

By using the word “invested,” Reynolds leaves the impression that this $2 billion is new money or a substantial increase she and her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, intentionally put into mental health care.

Nearly $1 billion in federal, state and county money already was being spent on adult mental health and disability services in fiscal 2010, according to a report by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center. The Affordable Care Act made many more people eligible for Medicaid, which was one reason spending increased since 2010.

Conclusion: Strictly speaking, this claim is accurate and it gets an A.

 

Claim: “In 2016 we invested $4 million in a new psychiatric medical residency program to recruit and retain more psychiatrists.”

Analysis: We checked this claim in December, giving Reynolds an A. The Legislature allocated $4 million in 2016 to create psychiatry residency programs at three Des Moines hospitals. Unfortunately, that funding was nixed last year, said Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm.

Conclusion: For noting just the one-year investment, Reynolds gets an A.

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OPIOIDS

Claim: “In the past decade, opioid-related deaths have more than doubled …”

Analysis: The number of opioid overdose deaths has grown from 50 in 2007 to 91 in 2017, and the number of opioid-related deaths increased from 107 in 2007 to 183 in 2017, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The 2017 figures still are considered preliminary. Reynolds’ staff cited a Dec. 13 agency report estimating opioid-related deaths in Iowa could reach 201 in 2017.

Opioid-related means the death certificate did not list an opioid as the cause of death, but as a contributing factor — such as a person who died of a heart attack but had heroin in his system.

Conclusion: While opioid and opioid-related deaths have undoubtedly grown rapidly, they have not “more than doubled” in the past decade even if the higher estimate were to become the final tally. We score this a D.

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CRITERIA

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by B.A. Morelli, Molly Duffy, Mitchell Schmidt and Erin Jordan.

Supervisors tell legislators their priorities

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County officials are urging area legislators to continue property tax replacement dollars and help keep the Country View care center open.

Those were among many issues the Board of Supervisors raised Tuesday during a 90-minute forum with four legislators whose districts include portions of the county.

State Sen. Bill Dotzler and Rep. Bob Kressig, both Democrats, and Reps. Walt Rogers and Sandy Salmon, both Republicans, attended the public meeting where the supervisors and county staff laid out their hopes for the upcoming legislative session.

County board chairman Frank Magsamen opened the discussion by urging the legislators to fully “backfill” commercial and industrial property tax reductions.
State lawmakers in 2013 reduced commercial and industrial property taxes through a rollback process and vowed to reimburse cities, school districts and counties for the lost revenue. But shrinking state revenue estimates have sparked concerns the state government would stop honoring that commitment next year.

“It would be at least a million dollars that we as a county government would lose if that tax credit wasn’t committed to by the state of Iowa,” Magsamen said.

“The hope was that this would spur economic growth,” he added. “We have not seen it to the extent that it would cover all of the reductions in property taxes of commercial and industrial properties in Black Hawk County.”

Dotzler and Kressig both said they were opposed to cutting the backfill, with Kressig doubling down on Magsamen’s comments about the impact of the tax cuts on economic growth.

“The original process was to grow the economy,” Kressig said. “Well, it hasn’t done a thing.”

Rogers said he felt the tax cuts did have a positive impact.

“Did the property tax bill spur any economic growth?” he said. “It’s hard to say for sure. Did it just sustain what we were doing? Was that a positive?”

Rogers acknowledged the backfill issue was on the table as state legislators grapple with the stress Medicaid and mental health issues are putting on the budgets. But he said he would be an advocate to leave the backfill in place next year and, if changes are necessary in the future, to phase the revenue out gradually over time.

“We are looking at everything,” added Salmon. “I would be lying if I didn’t say this wasn’t on the table. This will be looked at too.”

Meanwhile, the county asked for help with mental health funding and Medicaid issues, which are helping drive a budget crisis at the county-owned Country View care center. Country View is running more than a $1 million deficit this year, pushing costs onto property taxes and forcing county officials to look at grim options for the center’s future.

Magsamen noted Medicaid is only reimbursing Country View for 80 percent of the county’s cost to care for residents there.

Country View officials said they’ve been having continuous problems with the managed care organizations, which are private for-profit companies former Gov. Terry Branstad hired in 2016 to fund the Iowa Medicaid program.

 “The ongoing billing difficulties we are experiencing with the MCOs really create a significant cash flow issue,” said Assistant Country View Administrator Genevieve Shafer. “Without those timely payments we cannot operate our business as effectively and efficiently as it should be.”

She noted mistakes by the MCO led the county to be shorted in payments for persistent mentally ill nursing home clients.

“As a provider to be asked (by the MCO) to take a settlement of $147,000 when our billings were above $500,000, that is just unacceptable,” she said.

Rogers and Salmon said they would intervene on Country View’s behalf regarding the billing errors but stopped short of calling the Medicaid privatization a mistake.

“The change from an old Medicaid system to the MCOs was done with good intentions,” Rogers said.

“The reality is going to the new system saved $111 million over two years for our overall budget,” he said. “The reality is there are some problems with the implementation and we’ve got to address those.”

Kressig countered the privatization was an abuse of power by the Branstad administration that has created “a mess.”

“We took a system that was pretty well managed … and gave it to a private company to run it,” Kressig said. “That company’s focus has been profits.”

Education Spending in Iowa Model for the Nation

If you were convinced that the ceiling was falling in on education spending in Iowa over the past several years, it’s not surprising, given the rhetoric that has been passed around in debate.  Legislative Democrats spend hours on the House and Senate floors lamenting the historic increases that House Republicans put forward year after year, claiming over and over again that it’s not enough, schools need more.  They point to other states spending on education as examples of where we should be.  But a new report that was released this week proved that it is Iowa other states should be looking to as an example.

The article detailed the report (from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, CBPP), titled “A punishing decade for school funding,” focuses on the “dramatically” declining public investment in schools across the county over the past decade.  The data points to the year 2015 when 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in pre-recession 2008.

But where does Iowa fall in this range?  4th best in the nation, with an increase of 20.6% in total state funding per student, inflation adjusted.

This isn’t new information from the CBPP.  Iowa has shown this recover in several of the Center’s previous reports reviewing this data.

The legislature continued school funding increases this year with a $40 million investment, despite a very tough fiscal year.  House Republicans, along with Gov. Branstad, committed to keeping the promise to fund schools with new money despite the need for reductions in many other areas of state government.  In fact, when state revenues fell again shortly after the legislature set the $40 million, House budget committees worked hard to find the savings in other areas to prevent backing up on that increase.

The results?  Combining this new funding increase for school districts, the state has now increased school funding by over $730 million over the past 7 years.  Teacher leadership funds are delineated separately due the unique nature of its interaction with school funding overall and to provide clarity to the conversation.

 

Fiscal Year  (school year) Percent Growth State Cost Per Pupil State Spending Increase TLC Increase
FY12  (11/12) 0% $5883 $178 million  
FY13  (12/13) 2% $6001 $29.2 million  
FY14  (13/14) 2% + 2% one-time $6121 $63.2 million + $57 million  
FY15  (14/15) 4% $6366 $148.6 million  
FY16  (15/16) 1.25% $6446 $37.2 million $50.2 million
FY17  (16/17) 2.25% $6591 $81.8 million $53.3 million
  6-yr total increase   $641.5 million + $57 million
FY18  (17/18) 1.11% $6664 $39.9 million $54.0 million
  7-yr total increase   $735.4 million + $57 million

 

State investment in general K-12 education has increased from $2.446 billion in FY11 to $3.183 billion in FY18, a 30% increase.

House Republicans are proud of the investment the state has continued to make in our state’s schools.  It’s been sustainable and reliable and has kept Iowa towards the front of the pack nationwide.

To see the full report, visit:  https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding

Change in Iowa’s union bargaining law prompts first shifts in schools

Written by , mryan@dmreg.com | Des Moines Register

Each year, the Iowa Department of Education releases its Condition of Education report. Here are 7 facts about Iowa schools from its 2016 report. Wochit

Waterloo teachers who work with some of the most challenging special education students will earn $6,000 more than other teachers with similar seniority and credentials.

In Burlington, decisions about where teachers will work and which programs they will lead are no longer based solely on seniority.

And in Carlisle, teachers who break their contracts to take a new job in another district face a $1,000 penalty.

These are just a few ways Iowa schools are re-examining teacher compensation after an overhaul of the state’s collective bargaining law.

This past session, the Republican-led Legislature reduced the ability of unions to negotiate on behalf of public employees, including public school teachers.

The change grants district leaders greater decision-making power. Districts are still required to work with unions to set base wages, but the new law prohibits collective bargaining for things like additional pay, seniority, grievances, employment benefits, insurance and other employment policies and procedures.

The Register contacted nearly 30 school districts that have signed new teacher contracts since the law took effect in February and found a wide variety of changes to district policies that previously fell under union negotiations.

 In Waterloo, changes include an effort to retain some special education teachers and para-educators who work with students who have behavioral challenges. The goal is to keep teachers from leaving the district and provide more consistency for challenging students.

Special education teachers “should absolutely feel that support; they should feel the support because it’s coming with additional resources,” said Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman.

Waterloo’s decision marks a “positive shift” for public schools, said state Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, who chairs the House Education Committee. “It’s common sense. It’s one of the things we were hoping for,” he said.

Yet some fear changes in compensation could create dividing lines between teachers, creating winners and losers, and pitting districts against each other as they compete for staff with pay.

 “You’re saying one teacher is more valuable than another,” said state Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, ranking member of the House Education Committee. “What would be more helpful, instead of pitting one teacher against each other, is more help in the classroom.”

Shift from seniority

A major shift in some districts is the changing role that seniority plays in how teachers are rewarded. State law now prohibits districts from negotiating with unions over seniority-related policies and perks.

“I don’t think that parents of students or the taxpayers would automatically assume that seniority equals higher-qualified teachers,” said state Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig.

Prior to a recent change, for example, position transfers in Burlington schools were based solely on seniority.

Each spring, teachers would gather in an auditorium for what was known as “bid day” to view and “bid” on open positions. Teachers with the most seniority bid first, which prevented younger teachers from obtaining certain positions or working in sought-after schools.

As a result of the law change, Burlington schools will consider other factors in transfer decisions this spring.

Sharon Dentlinger, the district’s director of curriculum, said the goal is “to get highly qualified people and the most energetic, motivated, enthusiastic people to work with our kids.”

Yet many remain skeptical. Internal school politics could become a larger factor in hiring decisions if a consistent measuring stick such as seniority is not used, said state Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines.

“When seniority is one but not the exclusive factor, you have a lot of room to pick and choose favorites,” he said.

Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said that the collective bargaining bill will deter future teachers from the profession. The Register

Some superintendents have addressed staff concerns about the shift away from seniority head-on, reminding staff that Iowa employment law still applies. It prohibits discrimination based on certain characteristics such as age.

Last spring, a group of teachers went to Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman with concerns that the new law would allow the district to fire the most experienced teachers as a cost-savings measure.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not, we will never do that,'” Lindaman said. “It would not be good for kids … we value teachers, and teachers who have been here for a while play a great role.”

Tammy Wawro, president of the state teachers union, said teachers are still “in shock, and in some cases they are very scared” by the changes.

“Morale is very low in places I go,” she said.

Policy changes

Many districts contacted by the Register kept policies or procedures previously negotiated with unions in their handbooks, which now govern most employee pay and benefit decisions.

But some are testing the waters by making smaller changes.

In Carlisle schools, for example, teachers who break their contracts for the upcoming school year will pay a $1,000 penalty, although a waiver is offered for unforeseen circumstances.

The penalty is designed to keep teachers from leaving the district for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

Each summer, some Carlisle teachers are lured away by offers in the Des Moines metro, said Superintendent Bryce Amos. “It does put a hardship on the district to fill those positions in the summer,” he said.

Such changes mark a shift in decision-making power. Superintendents told the Register they continue to seek input from teachers and staff, just not in the way previously required.

“For 40 or 50 years, this is all Iowa has known — it’s always been collective bargaining,” said Bill Thompson, superintendent of Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn. “It’s a whole new world.”

This spring, about 140 districts rushed to pass and extend multi-year contracts prior to legislation taking effect.

The majority of school districts will negotiate contracts with teachers under the new rules by the 2018-19 school year, according to a Register review of data from Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board. The rest will follow in subsequent years.

Some speculate that teachers could seek other ways to influence district policies through local school board politics. Elected officials hire and oversee superintendents.

“You’re going to have people getting more involved in the political end of things,” said Randy Richardson, a former leader of the state teachers union who is now part of Iowans for Public Education, a Facebook group with more than 12,000 members.

Pay changes to come?

A lingering question is just how aggressive some Iowa districts will be in competing for top teachers or staff, and how willing those professionals are to move districts.

For decades, many of Iowa’s teacher contracts created the opposite effect: Disincentives to relocate or move between districts.

It wasn’t unusual for a 20-year veteran teacher to be compensated at the rate of a 10-year teacher when hired by another district, for example.

“You almost paid a financial penalty to move,” said Thompson, superintendent of Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn school district.

Superintendents told the Register they’re watching how neighboring districts change their approach to pay, recruitment and incentives. If necessary, they could make changes to stay competitive.

North Scott’s district is already studying different pay structures, reviewing more than 20 different approaches instituted by Wisconsin districts, including a more contentious model that rewards teachers based on performance.

In some states, that’s come to mean a system that pays teachers more money if student test scores improve or if they take on tougher assignments.

One challenge of the current system is how long it takes young teachers to reach a competitive wage, North Scott Superintendent Joe Stutting said.

“We’ve got to attract the best,” he said. “That’s not just competing against (nearby districts), it’s also competing against private industry in a strong economy.”

That has some district officials concerned. In the 500-student district of Griswold in western Iowa, for example, no pay increases were granted this year.

“It really depends upon other schools,” Griswold Superintendent David Henrichs said. “If they start offering huge signing bonuses, it’s going to put us at a disadvantage.”

Management decisions

While it’s unclear how the state’s collective bargaining overhaul will affect Iowa’s 333 school districts, the Register largely found examples of changes being made to address local issues.

Superintendents are doing “what they can to address whatever they need to address,” said Roark Horn, executive director of the School Administrators of Iowa.

In grade-sharing districts of Prairie Valley and Southeast-Webster-Grand, for example, leaders used changes in the law to align employee pay and benefits.

The districts participate in whole grade sharing, meaning students from both communities attend class with one another, and teachers from both districts work in the same schools.

Despite that collaboration, teachers previously worked a different number of days, had different insurance options and even earned different wages — all based on separately negotiated union contracts.

The two rural districts had been working for multiple years toward a common agreement, but were unable to reach one through collective bargaining, Superintendent Brian Johnson said.

Under the new law, the decision-making process was streamlined for Southeast Valley schools, as they’re collectively known.

“We were able to meet and confer with a group of association leaders on both sides, and hash it out more smoothly than bickering over the fine details,” Johnson said.

Boulton, the Des Moines legislator, said a similar outcome “should have been easy to reach through a quality bargaining process.”

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We threw out a process that hinged on reasonable compromise.”

But some disagree. The law’s intent was to give decision-making power back to administrators and school boards, who are more accountable to parents and taxpayers, said Schultz, the Schleswig legislator.

“There is always going to be some people disappointed, yet you can’t stay in a difficult situation forever,” Schultz said. “This situation sounds very similar to (one in the) private sector, where a decision has to be made.”

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

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