The Capitol was a busy place this week with visitors from many interest groups and those wishing to share their perspectives about proposed legislation. The Iowa Bicycle Coalition was among the visiting groups. Subcommittee hearings on the Governor’s proposed AEA bill were held in the House and the Senate on Wednesday bringing even more visitors to both chambers. We appreciate the parents, educators, superintendents, administrators, and all who came to voice their opinion and give us their perspective. This is how we can best find a solution and progress on this issue for the benefit of all Iowa students.
AEA and Reading Instruction Reform
As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, it is the legislature’s job to look at state agencies and departments and areas that the state of Iowa invests in to see how they can be improved or changed. That responsibility gives merit to this bill. Starting the discussion in subcommittee provides an opportunity to learn more about the system, and to work together to figure out if there are ways to make this system work better for the students that need it. Although I don’t currently serve on the education committee and therefore did not attend the subcommittee meeting in the Senate, I have voiced concerns brought to my attention from constituents to education committee members, and have been following the status of the bill. It appears that it has passed out of subcommittee with an amendment in the Senate, however, the House subcommittee did not put its stamp of approval on it this week. See the links to SSB 3073 and HSB 542.
I mentioned Senate Study Bill 3069 last week. This is the bill that restricts the type of reading instruction for children in grades Kindergarten through 3rd Grade to evidence-based practices. This is another education bill that moved forward in the Senate this fourth week of session.
William Penn University Visits the Capitol
I enjoyed visiting with Luke Wichers on Tuesday regarding his experience at William Penn University. Students in the Teacher Education Program at William Penn spoke with legislators about their support for a State Funded Student Teaching Stipend as a way to help with the teacher shortage across the state. This would be a program that would be comparable to other careers with paid internships and could be modeled after other states that have student teaching stipends, like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Maryland and Oklahoma. It was an honor to speak with this young man from Muscatine who is passionate about becoming a middle school or high school teacher. He will make Muscatine proud!
Department of Education Releases ESA Statistics for 2023-2024 School Year
The Iowa Department of Education has released statistics for this school year regarding how many Iowa families utilized the new Education Savings Accounts (ESA) to help pay for non-public school. The number of students using ESAs was more than anticipated, demonstrating strong demand for the program. Almost 17,000 students are using ESAs this school year. Twelve percent of those students were previously enrolled in public school, while 21% are incoming kindergarteners. Two-thirds of those accessing an ESA were already enrolled in private school.
Opponents to school choice promised a mass exodus of students from public school, however, despite an increase in private school enrollment, the enrollment in public schools decreased by less than 1%. Students leaving rural schools for private schools could typically be counted on one hand, if any. Opponents also claimed it would lead to massive cuts in funding, but last year the legislature approved more than $107 million in new school funding for K-12 public schools. This year the governor has proposed a higher minimum starting pay for new teachers, regular funding increases, and other educational spending to total even more new money for Iowa schools than last year.
As you can see from the data, school choice was not the demise of public education in Iowa. The reality of the school choice debate is that a vast majority of Iowa students will continue to be educated in public schools. Choice will lead to better student outcomes in both public and private schools because every time Americans have more choice, quality goes up and costs are held down. Iowa schools won’t see mass closures, opportunities in rural Iowa will remain, and student achievement will increase.
Moving Iowa Closer to Becoming a Zero Tax State
This week, the Iowa Senate released two proposals for more historic income tax relief for Iowans. The first bill includes a number of reform measures including accelerating the current income tax cuts, lowering rates even further for both corporate income taxes and individual income taxes, and a plan to generate additional revenue to be used for tax relief. The second bill is a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority to increase taxes in Iowa and preserve the new flat tax by putting it into the Iowa Constitution.
Since Republicans took the majority in 2017, we have been conservatively budgeting and responsibly funding the priorities of Iowans. At the same time, we’ve been putting money into our reserves and the Taxpayer Relief Fund. Under this proposal, two new funds would be created: the Iowa Taxpayer Relief Trust and the Income Tax Elimination Fund. The trust would receive $2.6 billion from the relief fund. That money, with its own separate oversight board and contracted with IPERS to manage, would be invested and start accruing interest. The interest would be deposited into the Income Tax Elimination Fund. Once the elimination fund meets a series of requirements, tax rates are reduced the following tax year and the money is used to stabilize the budget. This process continues until the income tax is completely eliminated in Iowa.
The opportunity to use the funds from the Tax Relief Fund to provide Iowans with more security, stability, and prosperity is an opportunity we may never have again. It is why the second part of the tax reform package is just as important. The constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support among legislators, because taking more of Iowans’ hard-earned money should require a broad consensus, not the narrowest of majorities. Additionally, by putting a flat tax into the constitution, we can ensure the only thing that changes in the future is the tax rates instead of overly-complicated brackets.
Many of us ran for office looking to make big changes to the state and make it a better place for our friends, neighbors, children, and grandchildren. These proposals would be such a benefit to families and small businesses all across the state. It would also protect the hard work we have done to provide tax relief for Iowa families and give them the confidence to know their hard work is protected now and in the future.
Bills that Progressed in the Senate this Week
Subcommittees and committee meetings were held on a variety of topics this week including the ownership of Iowa land by foreign entities, religious freedom, traffic cameras and hands-free devices, as well as others. The Senate Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee met and heard from three different agencies or departments on their legislative priorities for this session. As we approach the first major legislative deadline of the year, we will continue discussing topics large and small, while we work through the process and find out what has enough support to move forward.
Director Beth Townsend, Iowa Workforce Development, Ambassador and Former Governor Terry Branstad, World Food Prize, and Executive Director Mike Norris, Southeast Iowa Planning Commission speak with the Senate Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee during their meeting on Monday.
I hope you will be able to get out and enjoy this recent warm up! It sure makes my morning runs much more enjoyable!