Education appropriations bill makes significant policy changes

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, provides his personal assessment of important language in the education appropriations bill, which Republicans will likely approve this week. -desmoinesdem

With the end of the legislative session drawing near, much of the work left for lawmakers is agreeing to a final budget. Last week the Iowa House introduced a number of appropriations bills. Included among them was House File 642, the education appropriations bill.

For fiscal year 2018-2019 the bill appropriates monies from the general fund of the State to the Department for the Blind, the College Student Aid Commission, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Regents and the institutions it governs, at generally 50 percent of the amounts appropriated for the same purposes for the prior fiscal year. In addition to establishing budget numbers the bill also contains quite a bit of language that modifies Iowa Code.

Some of the most significant changes include:
• Replacing the $6,000 limitation for two semesters of study by students receiving Iowa tuition grants, with language that provides that the amount cannot exceed the average resident tuition and fees at a regent’s university.
• Changing membership on the College Student Aid Commission by striking a requirement that one member of the board represents a lending institution and one member is an individual who is currently repaying or who has paid off a student loan from the commission. The new language requires that one member be a parent of a student at an accredited postsecondary institution and that one member is licensed by the Board of Educational Examiners. The bill also increases the number of members from the general public from three to four.
• Prohibiting the College Student Aid Commission from approving new loan forgiveness applications under the teacher shortage loan forgiveness program.
• Reducing the standing appropriation for at-risk children for 2017-18
• Eliminating funding for the Regional Telecommunications Councils (RTCs) that help provide input for the Iowa Communications Network (ICN).
• Eliminating the requirement that school districts provide mentoring for new teachers. Under the language in this bill schools can choose to offer this program and fund mentoring out of professional development dollars. This is one more slam to teachers in the state. Since its inception the mentoring and induction program has reduced turnover for new teachers. This data has been kept by the state, but it’s doubtful that lawmakers took the time to actually check on the results of the program.
• Modifying language in the Iowa Code to eliminate mentoring and reducing the allocation for teacher quality funding by just over $22,000.
• Adding an allocation of $25,000 for a fine arts beginning teacher mentoring program.
• Delaying until July 1, 2018 a $10 million allocation for supplemental assistance for high needs schools.
• Adding a provision to appropriate money for a computer science professional development incentive fund, if the bill creating it is enacted.
• Budgeting $1.9 million for an early warning literacy program for both public and non-public schools. Several teachers have shared their belief that this early warning system is not effective and over-identifies students who don’t actually have reading problems.
• Setting aside over $626,191 for the Iowa Department of Education to work collaboratively with the AEAs to develop a career paths and leadership roles program. These funds can be used to hire additional staff at the Department, for planning grants by schools and AEAs, or staff development. School districts with fewer than 600 students will be given a priority in the application process.
• Providing $975,000 for textbooks for non-public schools

Democrats in the Iowa House were successful in forcing hearings on the appropriations bills. Those hearings are scheduled on Monday, April 17. It is possible, but unlikely, that any major changes to the appropriations bills will take place as a result.

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