This was the fourth week of the legislative session. We continued our work on many important issues in subcommittee and committees, and also had some more floor debate.
One of the bills we discussed was Senate File 231, allowing a person holding a special minor’s driver’s license who resides on a farm or is working on a farm in Iowa to operate a motor vehicle between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. to help with farm work.
We all know Iowa is a rural state, and many teenagers either live on farms or work for farmers – many of you probably grew up helping out on a farm too. Currently, these teenagers can drive a tractor between farms but cannot drive a pickup between farms. This bill makes a common-sense update to this law. These operations are vital to our state’s economy, and this legislation is just one way we can help rural Iowa and make life a little bit easier for hard-working farmers and their families.
Another issue important to rural Iowa is increasing broadband access for all Iowans. This last year has shown us all just how crucial it is to increase access. We saw a number of things we do daily move online, whether it was work, school or even doctor’s appointments.
A bill discussed this week, SSB 1089 proposed by Governor Reynolds, would amend the broadband facility expansion grant program administered by the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). The goal is to both help promote investment in facilities that provide high-speed service and ensure it will not quickly be superseded by new technology.
The expansion and improvement of broadband service, particularly in rural and other underserved areas of Iowa, is a priority for the governor, as well as for Senate Republicans. Quality broadband connects are a critical economic development need in many parts of the state. Discussions on this bill have only just begun, and they will continue throughout this session as we work with everyone and talk about how to improve broadband access to rural Iowa.
Keeping promises to K-12 schools
Once again this year, Senate Republicans have proposed sustainable and reliable funding for K-12 education. This year’s proposal is $45.2 million in new funding on top of the nearly $3.5 billion spent on K-12 education last year.
This legislation navigates the challenging realities of school funding in a pandemic. Because of the coronavirus, K-12 enrollment decreased by approximately 6,000 students since last year. These families chose to keep their children home either because of health concerns for the child, a close family member, or because of the inconsistency and uncertainty of the schedule in many districts this year.
Much of state funding for education is connected to the number of students enrolled in each school district. Because of the significant decrease in enrollment, a traditional increase in state aid could leave some districts with a decrease in funding for next year. Increasing state aid on a per pupil budget to make up for the decrease in students could create a disastrous effect on the budget the following year, potentially leading to broken promises like schools were forced to endure the last time Democrats controlled the Iowa Legislature.
To address this dilemma, SSB 1159 provides a one-time increase of $65 per pupil for next year. This amount totals $29.4 million. Schools are required to follow state law as passed last year and this year regarding in-person instruction to receive this money. These dollars will provide schools with more money this year without creating a funding bubble the state budget could not afford the following year. While the Iowa economic recovery is going well, it remains possible the virus or anti-growth policies in Washington, D.C., could create additional economic difficulties and a decline in state revenues.
Finally, SSB 1159 allocates nearly $10 million to address per pupil and transportation inequities. Due to the complex nature of the school funding formula, some school districts are given more money per pupil than other districts. This bill continues to close that gap. Another inequity in education funding is the high transportation costs incurred by many rural school districts. The increase in transportation dollars keeps the promises Senate Republicans made to ensure rural schools were on equal footing with geographically smaller school districts.
In total this education funding proposal is a $45.2 million increase in funding for K-12 schools. It provides more money to local schools during a pandemic, sustainably addresses the decrease in enrollment and ensures the promise made this month is kept next fall.