What happened on education during the Iowa legislature's final week

Randy Richardson has the rundown on how the Iowa legislature’s final actions of 2018 will affect public school districts and higher education. -promoted by desmoinesdem

While controversial issues like abortion and tax reform grabbed the headlines last week, a number of bills impacting education saw last-minute approval before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year on May 5.

Two major changes took place in House File 2502, also known as the Standings bill. The first change involved the Instructional Support Program. Created by the legislature in 1989 and implemented in fiscal year 1992, the program allows districts to increase their general fund budgets by up to 10 percent of the total regular program district cost. Districts may implement the program for a five-year duration with local board approval or for ten years with voter approval. Funding is formula-based and includes a combination of state and local money. The state’s share of the funding has been steadily decreasing.

HF 2502 continued the trend of reducing the state’s contribution to instructional support aid by reducing the amount to zero beginning July 1, 2018. Currently the state provides $14.8 million for instructional support aid while the 327 local school districts with an instructional support levy raise generated $229,329,884 in local taxes. Going forward, local school districts will be responsible for fulling funding this program.

HF 2502 also reduced state aid for the Area Education Agencies (AEA) by $15 million. The amount was prorated among the agencies based upon the reduction that each agency received beginning on July 1, 2003. In addition to the $15,000,000 State aid reduction for FY 2019, the AEAs have an annual statutory reduction of $7,500,000. The State aid reduction to the AEAs will total $22,500,000 for FY 2019

Two other bills, House File 2406 and House File 633, allowed school districts to enter into sharing agreements for the purpose of hiring a social worker and lifted the five-year limit on operational sharing. Since many rural districts receive services from social workers employed by AEAs, this bill would appear to be another attack on the services provided by those agencies.

House File 2486 would have created a sales tax exemption for instructional materials required for a course of instruction at a postsecondary institution in the state, when the materials are purchased for use by a student enrolled in the course. Postsecondary institutions are defined as public four year universities, private nonprofit four-year universities, public two-year colleges, and private nonprofit two-year colleges. That bill cleared the Iowa House but stalled in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

One of the biggest bills of the session was Senate File 2417, the tax reform bill. While this bill made huge changes to our income and sales tax structures, it only made a couple of changes that specifically targeted education. Those changes included:

• Increased the annual cap for the School Tuition Organization Tax Credit by $1.0 million, to $13.0 million. The income threshold for grant eligibility was increased from 300 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
• Made major changes to the Iowa Educational Savings Plan Trust and the Iowa ABLE Savings Plan. The existing plan allowed people to set aside money under a 529 plan to pay for their dependents higher education costs. The legislation now aligns with Federal law and allows Iowans to use the funds to pay for qualified education costs for elementary and secondary schools, including private school tuition. The maximum distribution to cover the costs of a beneficiary in any one year is $10,000.
• Continued the Teacher Expense Deduction. This represents one of the few scraps legislators offered to K-12 teachers. This allows elementary and secondary teachers to deduct certain expenses from their state income taxes.

The most significant changes occurred in Senate File 2415, which appropriates fiscal year 2019 money for the Department of Education and the Board of Regents. Those changes are grouped by subject area and appear below.

The College Student Aid Commission saw a number of changes including:
• Maintained the current level of funding for the Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness program. However, legislators included a section that specifies that the program will not accept new applications in FY 2019 but may continue renewing loan forgiveness for previously eligible recipients.
• Maintained the appropriation for the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship Program. The bill will now permit private colleges and universities that are eligible for the Iowa Tuition Grant Program to be included in the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship Program if the amount appropriated for FY 2019 exceeds $500,000.
• Maintained the current level of funding for the Teach Iowa Scholar Program.
• Changed the level of funding for the three Tuition Grant Programs as follows:
o Iowa Tuition Grant (Nonprofit): $47,007,171, an increase of $376,220.
o For-Profit Iowa Tuition Grant: Funding for the program is eliminated, a decrease of $1,500,000. The Program is repealed elsewhere in the bill.
o Vocational Technical Tuition Grant: $1,750,185, no change compared to FY 2018.

While the overall general fund appropriation to the Iowa Department of Education (DOE) stayed the same, the department did see numerous changes in funding levels for specific programs. Those include:
• Funding for Iowa Public Television (IPTV) increased by $68,421, but a .9 FTE position was eliminated.
• Appropriations for Career and Technical Education Aid remained the same largely because any reduction in this appropriation would have jeopardized all federal Perkins funding, a potential loss of an estimated $12,032,821.
• Funding for the school food service remained the same, also because any change might impact federal funding for the program.
• Maintained funding for the supplement federal funding for special education services to children from birth to three years of age. Any change in funding would have jeopardized $3,880,191 in federal funding.
• Funding for Early Head Start Projects was maintained at current levels. However, the bill
requires funding to be used for the implementation and expansion of Early Head Start pilot projects addressing the comprehensive cognitive, social, emotional, and developmental needs of children from birth to three, including prenatal support for qualified families. It also requires the projects to promote healthy prenatal outcomes and healthy family functioning, and to strengthen the development of infants and toddlers in low-income families.
• Increased funding by $3364 for textbooks for nonpublic school students bringing total spending to $652,000 annually. Increased the funding limit to $25 per pupil. The bill also specified that reimbursements are not to exceed comparable services offered to resident public school pupils.
• Increased funding by $50,000 for the Student Achievement and Teacher Quality Programs.
• Created a new appropriation of $250,000 to create a statewide clearinghouse related to work-based learning as a part of the Future Ready Iowa Initiative.
• Increased funding by $1,000,000 for the Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates program. The funding can be used for both middle and high school programming.
• Set aside a small increase in funding for the “Statewide Report Card.”
• Increased funding by a small amount for the Online State Job Posting System.
• Maintained funding for the Successful Progression for Early Readers Program.
• Increased funding for the Early Warning System for Literacy by $4649.
• Increased funding for the Iowa Reading Research Center by $345,000. Specified that the funds appropriated this year for the Center do not revert until the end of FY 2020.

In a non-monetary item, the bill requires the Department of Education to provide reading assessments for pre-K through grade six to detect students not proficient in reading. Currently, the department provides the assessments at no cost to schools. This language permits charging school districts for the cost of the assessment, which school districts may pay out of Early Intervention funds.

Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) is a statewide initiative working to improve the quality of life for young children and their families. The program saw a number of changes in the bill. Among those were:
• Increasing the total deposit into the School Ready Children Grants Account by $53,803. The increase did come with some restrictions.
o Allocates a maximum of $265,950 for the ECI Office and other technical assistance activities.
o Permits funds allocated under this paragraph to be used by the State ECI Board for the purpose of skills development and support for ongoing training of staff.
o Prohibits the use of funds for additional staff or for the reimbursement of staff.
• Maintains the current level of funding to be used by local ECI areas to improve the quality of early care, health, and education programs. Specifies that up to $88,650 of the allocation may be used for the technical assistance expenses of the State ECI Office, including the reimbursement of staff members.
• Increases funding to the State ECI Board by $53,803 to provide child care and preschool providers with high-quality professional development.

The Board of Regents was created by the Iowa General Assembly in 1909. The Board of Regents is a group of nine citizens who govern five public educational institutions in the state (the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa; and two special preschool/K-12th grade schools – the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School) through policymaking, coordination, and oversight, as provided by law. The Board also hires an Executive Director and currently employs 16 staff. Among the changes to funding were:
• Maintained the current level of funding to the Board of Regents Office and allowed the Regents to hire an additional 1.48 FTE positions. In return the Board must develop monthly financial reports and prepare a December 2018 report on the five-year graduation rates for the universities.
• Made a new appropriation of $8,300,000 to be allocated by the Board of Regents to the three State universities.

While not part of the funding stream for the Board of Regents, funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Collaborative Initiative at the University of Northern Iowa was maintained. A total of $500,000 of the appropriation must be used to provide technology education opportunities to high school, career academy, and community college students through public-private partnerships.

The Student Achievement/Teacher Quality program became law in 2006 and was implemented statewide in 2007. It was a multi-faceted program designed to improve professional development for teachers, make changes in how teachers were evaluated, increase salaries and give professionals greater input into their profession. The bill addressed the following issues:
• Maintains the current level of funding for the National Board Certification Awards and maintains the current level of allocation for the administration of the Ambassador to Education (Teacher of the Year) award compared to estimated net FY 2018.
• Increases funding by $25,000 for Career Development and Evaluator Training.
• Increases funding for Teacher Development Academies by $25,000.
• Maintains funding for Fine Arts Teacher Mentoring.
• Maintains the current level of funding for Teacher Leadership and Compensation technical assistance.
• Maintains the current level of funding to implement supplemental assistance for high-need schools in FY 2020.

Community colleges didn’t get a lot of attention in the bill. The state’s fifteen community colleges will see funding increase by $2,000,000 from the previous year. An additional $600,000 was appropriated to create a Summer Joint Enrollment Program to allow high school students to enroll in community college classes in the summer months under an agreement between the school district and the college.

K-12 school districts will also see new requirements and, in some cases, additional funding to help offset the costs. Those include:
• A new appropriation of $2,700,000 will be distributed to school districts to help offset the costs associated with the new statewide assessments for students.
• A new appropriation of $500,000 for the statewide Computer Science Professional Development Incentive Fund that will be used for professional development and compensation for teachers seeking a new computer science endorsement.
• Modifies provisions that will now allow the personal finance literacy credit required for graduation to count as a half unit of social studies or other combination of coursework.
• Limits the standing appropriation for at-risk children to $10,524,389. This is no change compared to estimated net FY 2018. This overrides the standing appropriation of $12,600,196 under Iowa Code and requires the DOE to prorate the FY 2019 appropriation among the specified programs, including grants to school districts for programming for at-risk early elementary and preschool students.

Finally, several changes will impact online learning in its various forms. Lawmakers modified Iowa Code to allow teachers from out-of-state who are licensed in Iowa to be eligible to teach in an online environment. The Iowa Learning Online initiative was also affected by changes to state law. Private providers will now be allowed to develop classes subject to the offer and teach waiver. In addition, private providers will now be required to meet the standards set out under the Iowa Learning Online Initiative.

  • Shorter--

    In short the Republicans did nothing to address the long suffering rural school situation, but did find new ways to undermine public schools in general with both the new tax loophole for private school tuition and the extra million dollars they added to the old loophole tax credit for those who divert tax money to private school scholarships. Mission accomplished (and mostly below the radar, too)!

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