Iowa House Speaker Upmeyer plans to deal with education funding "quickly"

During this year’s legislative session, Iowa House Republicans refused for months to budge from their initial position on education funding, forcing public school districts to approve budgets for the coming year without knowing how much state aid to expect. Then House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democratic Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal finally rolled out a deal on education spending and other state budget issues more than a month past the Iowa legislature’s scheduled adjournment date.

Incoming House Speaker Linda Upmeyer plans to handle things differently, Cristinia Crippes reported for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, after hearing Upmeyer’s remarks to a group of Republican women in Cedar Falls.  

From the October 3 story by Crippes:

“I think everybody absolutely wants to deal with education quickly,” Upmeyer said of the Legislature’s top priorities next year. “The fact that the governor vetoed a portion of the funding for schools, we recognize that that was a surprise, so we want to make sure that we handle that as quickly as we possibly can.”

In July, Governor Terry Branstad item-vetoed most of the extra education funding House Republicans had offered as a concession to Democrats. Had Paulsen and Upmeyer agreed to a higher level of “allowable growth” for K-12 budgets, the additional money for schools would not have been added to a supplemental spending bill, and therefore could not have been item-vetoed. House leaders could have but did not call their members back to Des Moines for a special session to override the governor’s vetoes of education and mental health funding.

I hope Upmeyer is sincere about wanting to resolve education funding early in the 2016 legislative session. For the past several years, House Republicans have refused to abide by longstanding state law, which requires lawmakers to set allowable growth levels more than a year in advance. School districts have paid the price, as administrators flew blind while drafting their own budgets.

Crippes reported that Upmeyer hopes the 2016 session will not go into overtime.

“I think this is an opportunity to kind of start fresh, so while Speaker Paulsen was a fabulous speaker — he and I worked very closely together — I am a different person,” Upmeyer said. “We’ll do a different approach, perhaps, and see where we go, but I don’t see any reason to be inefficient with our time in Des Moines.”

I’ll be impressed if Upmeyer can pull off an on-time adjournment. Lawmakers may be more eager to get back to their districts during an election year. On the other hand, Branstad’s vetoes poisoned the well, which should complicate efforts to reach a compromise on next year’s state budget.

UPDATE: Iowa Policy Project executive director Mike Owen pointed out that Upmeyer’s comments do not indicate whether she is talking about education funding for fiscal year 2017 only, or also for the year after that.

The 1995 law on education funding requires the state legislature to set allowable growth levels more than a year in advance. In other words, lawmakers should have acted during the 2015 session to approve allowable growth for fiscal year 2017 (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017). The Iowa Senate passed a corresponding bill, but House Republican leaders declined to follow suit.

If Upmeyer is committed to following state law, the Iowa House should move quickly next year not only to approve fiscal year 2017 education funding, but also allowable growth for the following year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018).

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