Greetings from the Statehouse: Into the third week

By Michael Bergan

The third week of session continues at a brisk pace. I expect this pace to continue through the first funnel, as bills move through sub-committee and committee.

The third week of session continues at a brisk pace. I expect this pace to continue through the first funnel, as bills move through sub-committee and committee. I serve on four of twenty committees in the House that will work on legislation. I focus on bills assigned to me for subcommittee and other committee bills. I typically defer study of bills in other committees until they become eligible for debate on the floor, or when a constituent raises a particular concern on a bill. 
Last Friday I attended a meeting for area legislators at NICC with the college President Dr. Herb Riedel, staff, area employers, and students that have participated in education opportunities while being employed. The discussion was productive and demonstrated the effectiveness of the community college in utilizing state funding to benefit both students and area employers. 
On Saturday, I attended three town hall forums. I participate in town hall forums by invitation. Farm Bureau has regularly held monthly forums during January, February and March. I participated in the Arlington forum with other Fayette, Clayton, and Buchanan County legislators. The meeting in Calmar consisted of legislators from Allamakee, Winneshiek and Howard. The Winneshiek County Republicans invited me to participate in a session in Decorah. Each of the forums were well attended and dominated by discussion of the Governor’s proposed Educational Savings Accounts. The forums provided a venue to learn about issues that are of concern to constituents and to share information on the bills pending in the legislature. 
Sunday, I traveled to Des Moines in the late afternoon, after having attended church and our congregational annual meeting with potluck dinner. Travel on Sunday allows for an unhurried pace and allows me time to prepare for the week on Monday morning. I spent several hours reviewing emails and sending responses into the evening. 
On Monday, I continued to catch up on emails and meet with colleagues. The House gaveled in for session at 1:00 with opening prayer and the pledge of allegiance. Both parties met in caucus to get updates on the day’s scheduled debate. The House debated and adopted our rules, then moved on to the Governor’s Education Savings Account legislation, HF68. Debate lasted nearly six hours in the House before it was passed on a vote of 55-45 and messaged to the Senate, where they continued their debate into the night. I did not support the bill. 
In my mind, HF68 creates a paradigm shift in funding education, from funding public institutions with state general fund dollars to funding children, where parents decide which accredited school they will attend. An ESA account will be set up by a third-party custodian for each eligible child attending an accredited non-public school. The amount of funding per student is estimated to be $7,598, and will increase over time with the increase to Supplemental State Aid. The third-party custodian will be selected through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process by the Department of Education. This process models other states having ESA accounts. The family does not receive the money directly, but tuition is paid out by the ESA custodian to the school as well as other allowable expenses. 
Eligible students will be phased in over three years, with children in families below 300% of the federal poverty level [FPL] eligible in year one. Year two eligibility increases to families below 400% of FPL. All children attending accredited non-public schools are eligible for funding in year three. Public schools will get added categorical funding for each child enrolled in the private school, estimated at $1204 per student. It is important to recognize that we have adequate revenues to support the increased funding, based on the past three years’ revenue and a five-year projection. 
Currently, over 33,000 students attend non-public accredited schools in Iowa, compared to 485,000 in public schools. Private school attendance is projected to grow by 5,000 to 10,000 students state-wide. A significant concern raised is that ESA funding will enable children attending public school to transfer to a private school, hurting public school funding. While this is likely to happen to some degree, I anticipate that some of the growth expected in private school attendance will come from children being home-schooled, who will now have funding available to attend a private school. Overall, the state is adding additional funding on top of our current school funding, adding over 33,000 students to the funding formula. 
The governor has proposed a 2.5% increase to Supplemental State Aid [SSA]. I am advocating for a larger increase, in the area of 3.5%. I expect that SSA will be settled in the next two weeks. 
Tuesday and Wednesday were filled with subcommittee meetings, committee meetings, and visits with constituents and advocacy groups at the Capitol. This week’s Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee received three presentations, of which I will highlight one. Secretary of State Pate provided his annual report and updated the committee on the recent election activity, ensuring safe and secure elections with our county auditors. The State department continues updating its IT functions to improve service to Iowans. [SAFE AT HOME]
I am currently involved with a National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy, I will share more on that another time. Tuesday, I met Sean Snyder, Winneshiek County Emergency Management Coordinator at the Capitol. We discussed pending legislation and had a tour of the chamber and the dome. During the AMP Day on the Hill, I met up with Lori Frick. AMP stands for Achieving Maximum Potential and is a group support for children in foster care. I was excited to learn that Lori was recently hired as Child Protection Services Director. Joe Bouska of Hacker, Nelson & Co was at the Capitol Wednesday with Iowa CPAs. We talked over recent tax legislations and suggestions for changes or clarification. 
There are no town halls planned. I appreciate the opportunity to meet with constituents. Kindly notify me of your intended visit to assist in scheduling time to meet. I can be reached by email at