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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Get ready for January: Advocacy!

Seeing how the snow is coming in bigger bunches this year, we may need to be discussing weather when we talk about getting ready for January.  However, my focus, today is the convening of the Iowa Legislature on January 11.  (Seems like that's about all I talk about, maybe I need to get a life!)

I have received the Rural Student Advocates of Iowa (RSAI) pre-session legislative update, which you can access on the RSAI legislative priorities web page here.  As alway it's about the money.  Aside from the timely notification of our FY17 allowable growth rate, the biggest issues that I feel we can have a real impact on are the issues surrounding student equity.  Specifically, the issues of inequitable funding of Iowa students in the 40-year-old school funding formula, and the loss of opportunity our rural students face due to the costs of transportation as compared to state averages.

The District Cost Per Pupil (DCPP) varies by up to $175 per pupil in districts across the state.  This is due to the compromises that were made when the funding formula was originally developed in 1972.  It is ridiculous that a formula designed to maximize equity in state funding allows for that much difference per pupil.  One of the proposals is titled SSB 1254 or HSB 240;  it allows districts with low DCPP to tax their patrons through Cash Reserve levies that can make up that difference.  This is not creating equity, it simply creates an inequitable tax structure that funds these students.  There are better solutions, such as this RSAI and UEN (Urban Education Network) proposal:
"Increases the cost per pupil by $15 million a year, which would eliminate the disparity in an estimated 5-6 years, This proposal increases those districts on the lower end while holding those districts at the higher end harmless (actually providing property tax relief on the high end if funded completely with state dollars.) This proposal was presented to the Interim inequities study committee by UEN. "
The transportation issue is far more complicated.  There are several solutions proposed, all involve either a supplementary weighting (state aid) or a local levy (property taxes) to offset higher than average portion of the transportation costs for those districts affected:
HF 84 Transportation Equity Levy, property tax or income surtax, local voter approval for 10 years for transportation costs above the state average. RSAI Pre-Legislative Update Dec. 23, 2015 
HF 250 Transportation State Aid, reimbursement for costs above the state average per pupil enrolled transportation cost, paid by the state 
HF 320 Transportation Supplementary Weighting, provided through the foundation formula 
HF 359 Transportation Levy: voters may approve levy for any transportation costs minus reimbursement for transporting nonpublic students 
HF 431 Transportation Supplemental Weighting, graduated based on incremental expenditures above the state average transportation cost per pupil 
HF 432 Transportation Aid per pupil, allocates $15 million to districts with costs above the state average transportation cost per pupil 
I would prefer a balanced approach to this issue, which would be a combined property tax and state aid solution.   Those are the ones like HF 320 and HF431 which assigns a  supplementary weighting to each student in their district's formula.

What I do know is any funds dedicated to these equity solutions will probably reduce the overall cost per pupil approved.  This is the travesty of thinking found on the hill these days, it used to be that education, being the largest and most important responsibility of the states, was due a priority in funding that assured adequate funding.  Now, we take a back seat to property and sales tax reductions in an era of state general fund surpluses.  Also, be wary of any proposals to increase "choice" as the home-school and private school lobbies will be making a play for surplus funds to support their education options.  That is not what's best for Iowa students in general, as those opportunities are not possible for many Iowa families.

Any inequity funding proposals will benefit both Valley and North Fayette, so they are worth supporting.  I hope I can count on our great patrons to help get the word out and make the needs of NFV heard with our local representatives.  For further discussion of the upcoming session see the RSAI newsletter here