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SAI Legislative Priorities for 2021 Session

 

Supplemental State Aid

SAI appreciates that supplemental state aid was set early in the 2020 session and that the Legislature honored the commitment to education with the impact of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the fact remains that due to low levels of funding growth over the past 10 years, school districts in Iowa remain under tremendous financial pressures. Districts are facing a critical labor shortage, which is increasing the cost of doing business and exacerbating district financial stress. The challenge of recruiting and retaining top talent in the field of education can be directly attributed to this lack of funding. The state’s reserve funds are full, and despite the pandemic, the state finished the most recent fiscal year (FY20) with a $305 million surplus, on top of a $289 million surplus in FY19.

We believe the public would be better served by and supportive of smaller state surpluses coupled with increased funding for public schools. We support an increase in SSA that mirrors the projection for growth of state revenues for the 2021-22 school year (FY22).

The increase should not be calculated by including categorical funding. Categorical funding should be increased at the same rate as supplemental state aid.

Flexibility of Funding

We support increased flexibility for school districts to use various approved funding sources as local school boards best see fit. Flexibility in the use of the management fund and cash reserves would be most beneficial in helping schools meet financial obligations.

Equity Issues

Dropout Prevention/At-Risk
Dropout Prevention funding is currently based on total enrollment count, not the percentage of students at-risk. Although flexibility for use of DoP funds has been legislatively expanded, DoP funding is still limited to 2.5% of the total regular program district cost for many districts. The current disparity in this funding mechanism is arbitrary, based on a history that is no longer relevant to supporting student needs. The percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch has increased dramatically in many districts after the date the cap was put in place. We support allowing ALL school districts to establish DoP funding at the 5% level.
 
Funding Formula

We support the inclusion of socioeconomic status in the school foundation formula that acknowledges the unique needs of districts and the populations they serve. There is a disproportionate cost of providing equal educational opportunities to low-income students. We support the implementation of the December 2019 School Finance Interim Committee formulas that provide resources for students from low-income families.

COVID-19

In addition to the SSA funding increase, SAI also supports the use of some one-time funding in both FY22 and FY23 to help address the additional financial burdens that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the areas of staffing, connectivity, virtual schooling, and social distancing/cleaning requirements. Most important would be the use of these one-time funds to assist districts in remediating student achievement dips (possible summer programs) related to the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Teacher Recruitment & Retention

Teacher shortages across the state have become critical. It’s past time for the Legislature and governor’s office to take leadership in addressing this crisis for our students and schools. Teacher recruitment to our university and college prep programs and incentives for teachers entering critical shortage areas are needed. As a state, we must encourage and incentivize individuals to both enter and remain in the teaching profession. We support additional tools to attract individuals to the teaching profession, such as loan forgiveness programs and grants to make education careers a more attractive consideration. We encourage looking at both short-term and long-term solutions and the creation of a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force to bring recommendations to the Legislature to address this critical issue.

IPERS

Governor Reynolds signed a temporary emergency proclamation in the wake of COVID-19 that waives the time period before retirees can return to IPERS-covered employment and removes the limitation on annual earnings during reemployment. We support a five-year initiative to allow teachers to retire under IPERS but return to work after a one-month period, rather than the current four months if they are hired for a teaching position a district was unable to fill. These retirees would continue to pay into IPERS, as would the employer, and NOT be subject to the $30,000 limitation on earnings after retirement. We believe this could be used as a tool to assist in addressing the teacher shortages districts are facing across Iowa. 

Mental Health

The state has taken some important first steps in addressing the critical mental health needs of students. Simply stated, this work does not go far enough to address the growing mental health needs of children. We support a comprehensive look at the growing mental health needs in the state of Iowa and the funding and implementation of external supports for students with mental health issues. We urge the Legislature to continue to build on and encourage public/private partnerships in this endeavor, and to form a Task Force to study the root causes of these increasing mental health issues.

Vouchers

We are opposed to all forms of voucher programs/additional public funds appropriated to private school uses.