Iowa schools are getting a better deal

On May 16, I wrote a guest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette explaining the real truth about education funding. Here is what I wrote:

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.

Capitol Review 4/16/17

Iowa Budget – A Six Year Review

As the 2016 General Election season reaches its conclusion in the next few weeks, the public’s attention will turn the 2017 legislative session and the discussion of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.  But before that begins, it’s important to take a look back at the last six years and see the stark differences in budgeting philosophy between House Republicans and House Democrats.  The impact of the budgeting principles House Republicans brought to the table in 2011 cannot be ignored. 

When the new House Majority took control in January, 2011, Iowa’s financial house was not in order.  The state was in the midst of a fiscal year where the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency said there was a funding gap in the General Fund of $1.070 billion.  Much of the funding gap was due to the decision by then-Governor Chet Culver and legislative Democrats to shift significant portions of General Fund expenditures to non-General Fund sources.  According to LSA, $817.9 million of General Fund spending had been shifted to non-General Fund sources including one-time federal stimulus funds.

The state’s two reserve funds - the Cash Reserve Fund and the Economic Emergency Fund - were not filled to the statutorily-required levels.  Instead, the funds had $109 million less than what is required by law - 10 percent of General Fund spending.  Property tax credits for homeowners, farmers, veterans, and seniors were once again underfunded.  Simply put, the state’s financial house was a mess at the start of the 2011 session.

The 2011 session, my first year in the legislature, brought a change in budgeting philosophy with the introduction of three budgeting principles by House Republicans. The new principles were simple and straight-forward:

House Republicans are committed to the following principles in producing a balanced state budget:

  1. Spend less than the state takes in;
  2. Do not use one-time money for on-going needs; and
  3. Do not balance the budget by intentionally underfunding programs.

The change in budgeting philosophy did not extend to everyone in the chamber.  House Democrats continued to push for spending above the state’s ongoing revenue, even when they were relegated to the minority by Iowa voters thanks to reckless votes for Des Moines flower pots and heated sidewalks.

During the 2011 session, House Democrats opposed a number of cost containment measures that House Republicans proposed as part of an effort to restore financial stability and sanity to the state’s budget.  The Democrats attempted to strip provisions from House File 45 that would have saved the taxpayers $174.6 million.  That was just the beginning of their free-spending ways. 

Building the FY 2012 budget began with the need to increase school funding by $156.2 million “…to backfill the under-funding of school aid in FY 2011. Because reductions to State aid made in FY 2011 did not reduce the State or district cost per pupil, the reduction is restored through the school aid formula for FY 2012, according to the Legislative Services Agency, “Summary of FY 2012 Budget and Department Requests”, page 18 (2011). 

House Democrats put forward budget amendments that would have increased state spending by an additional $168.4 million.  If Democrats had control of the chamber and succeeded in moving their budget ideas forward, the General Fund budget would have been $6.2321 billion - $200 million more than what the Revenue Estimating Conference had forecast for ongoing revenue that year.

The 2011 session would set the pattern when it came to House Democrats and the budget.  As a campaign commercial once said, “If it’s a good idea, let’s do it.”  And there aren’t many spending proposals that House Democrats fail to see as a good idea.  The following graphs show the dangerous spending proposals of the democrats over the last six years.  







The start of the legislative session brought about another push from House Democrats to promise schools more than the state had funds to provide.  They called to set the increase in Supplemental State Aid for schools at 4 percent.  House Democrats also continued their refusal to acknowledge the dramatic growth in the Medicaid program has put unceasing pressure on the rest of the state budget.  They offered language that would have terminated the Medicaid Modernization efforts, thus increasing Medicaid spending in FY 2017 by $111 million, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency.  Such a move would have virtually wiped out the funding available for schools in FY 2017.  And they also called for a major increase in funding for the Board of Regents.  The net effect of these efforts would have pushed the state’s budget to $7.6126 billion - an amount that would have been $261.8 million over the expenditure limitation for the fiscal year.

$3.35 billion - and counting

These figures do not completely measure the amount of additional spending proposed by House Democrats over the past six years.  When supplemental appropriations and funding in out years are included in the calculation, House Democrats proposed over $3.35 billion more in General Fund spending between 2011 and 2016.  It’s hard to imagine what the state’s fiscal situation would be today if House Democrats had been in charge of Iowa’s budget with a track record like that.  Luckily for every Iowan, that wasn’t the case.

Over four successive elections, Iowa voters have put Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives.  During that time, funding for schools and community colleges has increased significantly.  Health care coverage for lower-income Iowans has expanded.  State debt has been reduced.  And even in tough budget times, the Legislature has always passed a balanced budget without many of the fiscal shell games of the past.  House Republicans commitment to budgeting within a set of principles has changed the culture within the Capitol.  Iowa would be in a much worse place without this.  With an energized effort here at the capitol by all Republicans to work for smaller, smarter government, I look forward to an integral influence in that goal!

Iowa’s High School Graduation Increases Again

In what’s becoming a yearly tradition, a report issued by the Department of Education this week shows that for the fifth consecutive year, the state’s graduation rate has increased.  Last year Iowa became the first state in the nation to top 90%, making it the highest in the nation.  While nation-wide data is not yet available, it’s likely Iowa will maintain that top spot when the national report is issued later this spring. 

Graduation rates for the class of 2016 increased for African American, Hispanic, and white students, but decreased among Asian, Native American, special education, low-income, and non-native English speaking students. 

The statewide graduation rate is 91.3%, marking a five-year trend that has seen a 3% increase total.

Four-year graduation rate Annual dropout rate 9-12
  All Students   All Students
Class of 2016 91.3%    
Class of 2015 90.8% 2015-16 2.8%
Class of 2014 90.5% 2014-15 2.5%
Class of 2013 89.7% 2013-14 2.7%
Class of 2012 89.3% 2012-13 2.8%
Class of 2011 88.3% 2011-12 3.2%
Class of 2010 88.8% 2010-11 3.4%

While the stats are certainly something to be proud of, it should also be looked at with an eye for improvement.  Last year’s ACT scores for Iowa show that only 31% of Iowa’s ACT test takers met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores.  An ACT benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses, as determined by the ACT. 

Additionally, Iowa’s dropout rate increased for the first time since the 2010/11 school year, increasing form 2.5% to 2.8%. 

Iowa is doing a fantastic job of ensuring our students stay in the classroom for a full academic career, giving them the best chance at post-high school success.  Iowans need to also ensure that we’re equipping those students with the skills they’ll need when they leave the high school classroom and enter either post-secondary education or the workforce, a thought echoed by Education Director Wise:  “While graduation is a critical step, we cannot rest until all kids graduate with the skills they need to succeed beyond high school.”

UNI Student Govt
UNI Student Government visiting the Capitol, Matt Johnson, Sam Blatt, Kristen Ahart , and Alyssa Dixon

Capitol Review 4-9-17

Protecting Unborn Life

This week, House Republicans passed legislation to significantly reduce abortions in the state. Senate File 471, as amended, is the most comprehensive pro-life bill to ever pass the Iowa House.

The bill protects an unborn child from an abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. A mother would only be able to have an abortion after 20 weeks if she was facing a medical emergency and the abortion was necessary to preserve the life of the mother, or to preserve the life of a child (normally done when multiple children have been conceived).  The amendment also requires doctors to gather and report information on abortions performed, including the post fertilization age of the unborn child and the method used for the abortion. The bill does not include criminal penalties for any party, but a doctor who fails to follow the law could face licensing sanctions.

During the debate, an additional amendment was accepted to address prerequisites for an abortion. This amendment sets standards that must be met before an abortion can be performed, in most cases. They include: 

  • A 72 hour waiting period
  • An ultra sound to determine the approximate age of the child
  • The woman seeking the abortion be given the opportunity to see the ultra sound and listen to the heartbeat of the child.
  • The doctor shall provide the woman with information relating to pregnancy options and risks associated with abortion.

Unless there is a medical emergency, failure to comply with these requirements could result in sanctions against the doctor. Neither the doctor nor the mother will face criminal charges for their actions.

The final language, approved by the House, also included essential intent language. This language made it clear that it is the intent of the general assembly to protect all unborn life, but that the amendment does not prohibit abortion, nor does it recognize a right to an abortion. House Republicans remain committed to protecting all Iowans, including the most vulnerable ones.

None of the language proposed by the House prohibits the use of contraception, or fertility treatments and the language does not extend beyond prerequisites for an abortion and a prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks. 

For years, House Republicans have led the fight to protect life.  Senate File 471 is a victory for all Iowans who value life. It is estimated that at least 52 babies every year will be saved by this amendment. The bill now returns to the Senate for their approval before being sent to the Governor.

Budget Targets

This week House and Senate Republicans announced joint targets for the FY18 budget.  The agreed upon budget plan spends $7.245 billion, which is about $18 million less than FY17.

Budget Targets

Administration and Regulation $ 47.39 million
Agriculture and Natural Resources $ 38.84 million
Economic Development $ 38.41 million
Education $ 908.41 million
Health and Human Services $ 1.766 billion
Justice Systems $ 734.95 million
Standings $ 3.711 billion
TOTAL $ 7.245 billion

This budget takes a responsible and thoughtful approach to spending in recognition that revenue may continue to come in less than anticipated.

This budget plan fully funds the additional $40 million promised to K-12 schools earlier this session.  It’s clear that K-12 education will be receiving the largest funding increase in all areas of government.  Most areas will see budget reductions.

This budget plan makes an initial down payment of $20 million to repay the Cash Reserve account.  House Republicans will be looking for ways to increase the down payment this year and will pass a plan to fully repay the Cash Reserve by the end of this General Assembly.

Thankfully, House Republicans rejected over $1 billion in additional spending plans offered by Democrats over the last two years.  Without that strong stand, key areas like local school budgets would be facing deep cuts.  Iowans can count on House Republicans to fight against reckless government spending ideas.

Texting and Driving

SF 234 was approved by the Senate and was subsequently approved by the House Transportation Committee. 

This bill simply upgrades texting and driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense.  SF 234 allows for drivers to use their phones in hands-free mode and regular mode as well as using their phone as a GPS. It allows for peace officers to pull someone over for a suspected violation of texting while driving. However, it does not make texting and driving a moving violation. The fine for this remains $30.

This bill changes the definition of “electronic message” to include images visible on the screen of a hand-held electronic communication device including a text-based message, an instant message, a portion of electronic mail, an internet site, a social media application, or a game. This update now includes applications such as Facebook and Snapchat.

According to NCSL, 46 states have already banned texting and driving and there are 14 states that have prohibited drivers from using hand-held devices while driving.  SF 234 passed the Senate with a vote of 43-6 and is on the calendar for debate in the House.

Education Celebration Day at the Capitol

school choiceStudents from Valley Lutheran met with me and Sen. Danielson 

school choice rallySpeaking at the School Choice rally

Capitol Review 4/1/17

pro lifeI was honored to speak at the pro-life rally here at the Capitol this past week.

Protecting Unborn Life

House Republicans are a pro-life caucus and believe the lives of the unborn are worthy of our protection. House Republicans have attempted to limit the number of abortions in the past but were consistently blocked by pro-abortion Senate Democrats.

With a new makeup in the Senate this year, Iowans can expect the Legislature to take a strong stand to protect life.

This week the Human Resources committee passed a bill limiting abortions after 20 weeks, similar to many other states. 

The bill does allow for exceptions in situations where the life or health of the mother is threatened.  This bill doesn’t ban birth control.

23 other states prohibit abortions between 20 and 24 weeks and this approach has been held up in court

While this isn’t the resolution everyone may have preferred, this is the most substantial piece of legislation to protect the unborn in Iowa history.

More Positive Legislation Passed by the House

Protecting Victims of Domestic Abuse and Stalking

House Republicans passed legislation this week that protects victims of domestic abuse. House File 263 ensures that habitual domestic abusers serve a minimum amount of time in prison. This will provide survivors and victims of abuse with more time to remove themselves from a bad situation while abusers serve their sentence.

Exceptions to Fail First Insurance Policies

House File 233 will give patients and medical providers more control over their healthcare. The bill provides a number of exceptions so that patients can get the medicine they need without having to go through treatments that aren’t effective as a way for insurance companies to save money. This will ensure that sick Iowans get the medications that their doctors recommend without having to go through a number of ineffective treatments first. 

Protecting Private Property Rights

House Republicans took a strong stand for private property rights with the passage of House File 603 this week. For many years, House Republicans attempted to advance legislation that protect the rights of private property owners, only to see those efforts die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Encouraging Growth in Iowa’s Craft Breweries and Distilleries

Over the last decade, the popularity of microbreweries and distilleries, and the products they make, has grown among many Iowans.  House File 607 will help continue the growth of the craft beer and spirits industries, creating new jobs and bringing more tourism to Iowa.  This legislation brings much-needed parity between the different sectors of Iowa’s alcohol industry.


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Cedar Falls, IA 50613



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