My Closing Comments on the School Funding Bill
On Tuesday I ran SF166, on school funding. These are my comments at the end of a long night of debate (some of the phrasing reflects that these were oral comments on the house floor).
Thank you Mr. Speaker.
I began this night asking if we could have a constructive critique of strategies and I want to thank you all because I believe we did that. Aside from a couple of sidebars, I think we had a good night of discussion and debate on both sides of the aisle and I want to thank everyone for being a part of that. One thing we all, I think, we all can agree on is we care deeply about education in the state of Iowa. At least that’s the point I’m continuing to try to make with my colleagues across the aisle.
It’s really not about how much money you put forth as a judgement of how much you care about education. It is how we look at the whole program and the whole system and can we make it better?
Representative Jones said something that I think went under the radar, which I want to reiterate. Since being in the majority the House Republicans have never cut education. Since being in the majority House Republicans have NEVER cut education. Let me say that one more time, I want to make CLEAR, since being in the majority House Republicans have never CUT education. In fact, we’ve increased $740 million over the seven years. That’s a 30% increase to education if you do the math. We’ve had a lot of discussion about numbers and math and where we’re getting our numbers tonight. Those are pretty simple. $740 million we have put forth in new education dollars over the past seven years. That’s happened at the same time where all the other areas of state government have declined, except for Medicaid. Medicaid and school funding are the two areas that have increased. So everything else is tight. We are concerned about everything else.
Let me reiterate a couple of the numbers that we did talk about. We have $200 million of new available money. Representative Winkler noted, I think it was Rep. Winkler, I’m sorry if it wasn’t, but you noted $243 million. The $200 million I am getting from, or that amount comes from the actual dollars we spent, not from estimates. We have $100, approximately, $100 million of built-ins right away, with $42 million in Medicaid, Technology in Innovation Fund, we have to fund and fulfill our cash reserves. So right off the top of that $200 million is $100 million gone. And we still have to fund higher ed. and state patrol and a plethora of other things.
So it’s pretty simple, that we can only do so much with the money that we have. But I started out this night talking about the good things that have happened in education, in Iowa, over the past several years. There are good schools. There are great teachers. I’ve seen many of them. And Representative Thede says that we have to own this. I believe we have owned it.
Every year we hear that SSA numbers from House Republicans’ support is going to cause massive teacher layoffs. Every year we hear that. Yet, the latest Condition of Education Report from the D.E. shows that the number of teachers has risen every year the House Republicans have been in the majority. It’s risen every year. We own it.
Coincidentally, the last year that teacher numbers decreased in the state of Iowa, you guessed it, was the year the 10% across the board cut. 727 teachers were cut that year. It’s pretty simple to understand the Republican Majority and our sensitivity to being very careful with the budget and very careful with our increases to education every year and our whole overall scheme of budgeting because we do not want that to happen again. We’ve owned it.
Every year we hear that SSA number is going to increase class sizes. And I’ll reiterate some of the things that Representative Moore said. That same report shows that class sizes are remaining steady, in fact increasing in some classes. We’ve owned it.
Every year we hear that SSA number will slide us further down the state comparison rankings. We’ve risen from 35th to 27th in the nation. We’ve owned it.
Teacher pay has increased again according to that same report, moving us from 26th to 23rd in the nation. Iowa’s graduation rate has increased yearly putting us above 90%, the first state in the nation to achieve that. We’ve owned it.
As I said in my opening comments, increased dollars is just one of the tools in our tool box for great schools. We have schools providing proof of tackling difficult problems. Such as a school Representative Steckman mentioned that has excellent reading scores and the blue ribbon schools recognized by the State Board of Education this year for their work on E.L.L., the achievement gap, and tackling special education. One of those schools is one of our schools in Cedar Falls, Representative Kressig, Lincoln Elementary. So I’m proud to own that.
But we can do better. We can do better for education in the state of Iowa. We put forth some ideas. We’re talking about new ideas about flexibility spending and working with collective bargaining and looking at inadequacies. We can do better. And I hope that this body will work together on some of these ideas to work as a body for these goals we’ve talked about in education.
I don’t know if I’ve shared this story before in this body but it was probably the best day of my campaigning. It was the day I was out and about and ran into a woman who said, “Are you Walt Rogers?” I said, “yes.” She said, “Did your mother teach school at Jewett in Evansdale?” I said, “Yes, she did.” She said, “she was the best teacher I had, and she changed my life!” That was the best day I had as a campaigner for what we do. And I think we can all agree that we care deeply about education. We’ve had a good night of constructive critique of what we can do. Let’s work together the rest of this session on ideas to make education great in the state of Iowa. We can own it and we can own it together.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you would support and move SF 166.
Collective Bargaining Discussion
There has been a lot of discussion about this proposal, and some of it is misinformation. So I want to clear up several of the concerns that people have raised with me. I would like to begin by making one point clear – the bill does not eliminate the right of public employees to collectively bargain. Here are several other items I’d like to clear up:
- The bill does not affect private sector unions.
- The bill does not affect pensions in any way. Pensions have never been part of the collective bargaining process in Iowa.
- The bill does not take away health insurance. Under the bill, government employers will still be required to provide a health insurance plan for their employees.
- The bill does not mandate that local governments must join a statewide health insurance pool.
I do believe that it is time for the state to have a thoughtful review of Chapter 20. The current law went into place during Gov. Ray’s tenure. Over the last four decades, the scales have been tipped in favor of government sector unions and against management and taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill. I don’t blame any one entity for this unbalance; it’s just what naturally happens over time when there is a slight advantage to one party over another in negotiations.
The interesting thing in this whole issue is that we are negotiating with ourselves. Public employees are concerned taxpayers just like everyone else, and of course they want what’s best for their families. I do believe this discussion really is about adjusting the scales for a more fair and equitable system that benefits everyone, public and non-public employees and all taxpayers.
One item that should be reviewed is arbitration. I believe that the arbitrators should have to work within the current financial realities of the local government. Today arbitrators cannot consider if the employer has enough funds to pay for wage and benefit increases, but they can consider the employer’s ability to raise taxes. That puts an unfair burden on taxpayers (all of us) and puts pressure on all areas of state government budgeting. Bargaining agreements really need to live within current financial realities. It’s sort of like treating taxpayers as an unlimited ATM, and we just can’t sustain that anymore.
Also an arbitrator, currently, is required to consider previous collective bargaining agreements. Each time something is mandated in a contract, it puts one more finger on the scale tipping it further in one direction. That’s how agreements slowly get unbalanced over time.
Also, many of the collective bargaining units were originally certified shortly after the law first went into effect. Currently government sector unions do not need to recertify before they negotiate on behalf of workers.
Local officials are elected by the voters to address the issues before their communities. Giving greater flexibility to school boards, city councils, mayors and boards of supervisors will allow these local governments to make decisions to best serve the people they represent, which is all of us, public and private employees.
More Myths and Facts
Myth: The bill is being rushed through circumventing the normal process.
Fact: The bill received a full subcommittee hearing. It went through a normal standing committee process. A public hearing on the bill will be held on Monday at the State Capitol. The bill will remain on the Debate Calendar for the 3 days which House Rules require. The bill won’t be debated until Tuesday at the earliest.
Myth: Health insurance is eliminated for public employees.
Fact: Page 46, line 3 of bill explicitly states the employer must offer health insurance.
Myth: Veteran teachers will be fired so school districts can replace them with younger, cheaper teachers.
Fact: It is already illegal to terminate an at-will employee because of age. That is age discrimination and already against the law.
Myth: Employees can be dismissed at any time for any reason and employers no longer need “proper cause.”
Fact: Employees have protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other unlawful practices. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on based on protected characteristics such as basis of race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability. Iowa employers with four or more employees must comply with these laws. This bill does nothing to undo those protections.
The Iowa Supreme Court has also protected employees by ruling that it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee if the termination would frustrate a well-recognized public policy. This means that an employer cannot terminate an employee for simply exercising his or her rights. For example, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee who misses work due to jury duty. Similarly, an employer cannot terminate an employee who sought workers' compensation benefits for an on-the-job injury. Additionally, statutes prohibit an employee from facing discrimination or being terminated after the employee complained about unlawful discrimination or harassment.
Employers are required to offer unpaid leave in some situations, including:
Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Iowa law also requires employers with at least four employees to provide up to eight weeks of pregnancy disability leave, unpaid, to employees who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions.
Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Iowa law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service.
Employers may not terminate employees if a contract exists between the parties. Employment contracts may arise through the policies outlined in an employee handbook provided to all employees. Handbooks may provide employees with expectations regarding disciplinary and termination procedures. Deviations from the policies outlined in the manual may provide a basis for a wrongful termination action against the employer.
Myth: A statewide mandatory health insurance pool will be implemented.
Fact: Governor Branstad has proposed eliminating health insurance as a mandatory bargaining item. He is instead proposing we treat health insurance like we treat pension systems – that they are provided outside of the bargaining process. No one is proposing the elimination of health care for public employees. The Governor also suggested the idea that public employers could pool together – if they so choose – to create larger risk pools to lower insurance costs for employers and employees. Suggestions that all public employers would be required to participate is rumor. Furthermore, that is not something that is expected to be addressed in any review of collective bargaining.
Myth: The Republican plan repeals the right to collectively bargain.
Fact: False. Unions will still have the right to represent bargaining units and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with state employers. There is no discussion whatsoever to change the process by which private sector employers and employees go about their bargaining processes.
Myth: Public employees are now prohibited from talking to their employers about issues like health insurance and vacation.
Fact: The bill prohibits the union from negotiating on anything except wages. Health insurance is required to be offered. The health insurance plan is determined by the employer – just like in the private sector. Issues like vacation cannot be collectively bargained for by the union. However, nothing prevents individual employees from talking about these issues with their employers. It also does not prohibit the employer from offering these kinds of benefits. Just because a topic is “prohibited” does not mean it is prohibited to be offered in the workplace.
Myth: The current law has worked well for decades and any review is politically motivated.
Fact: In 2007 and 2008 the defenders of the current law aggressively pursued significant expansion of collective bargaining and tried to gut Iowa’s Right to Work law while engaging in forced unionism. If the law is working so well, why did its defenders try and change it?
Myth: This is a replay of what happened in Wisconsin.
Fact: The Wisconsin plan was far more expansive. It included major budget cuts and pension reforms. The Republican plan does neither.
Myth: Republicans are union-busting.
Fact: The plan gives government workers more freedom and choice in their workplaces. If a union is unresponsive to their needs, they are free to vote against certification of that union. If the union is providing value and needed services to those it represents, that union will thrive. If the idea was to bust unions, then the plan would entirely eliminate any collective bargaining rights for government employees similar to what Virginia and South Carolina do.
Myth: Teachers will be paid less.
Fact: School districts will now have the ability to pay high performing teachers more. Teachers in high demand subject areas will be able to receive higher compensation. Districts will be free to develop locally specific pay plans that serve their unique needs and concerns.