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SAI Legislative Priorities for 2022

Supplemental State Aid

SAI appreciates that additional supplemental state aid was funded in the 2021 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 (FY21) with a $1.24 billion surplus, on top of a $305 million surplus in FY20.

SAI believes the public would be better served by and supportive of smaller state surpluses coupled with increased funding for public schools. SAI supports an increase in SSA of not less than 3% for the 2022-23 school year (FY23). SAI would also appreciate the Legislature setting the supplemental state aid rate within the statutory deadline of the first 30 days of the legislative session so that schools can properly budget and plan for FY23.

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

SAI supports increased flexibility for school districts to use various approved funding sources as local school boards best see fit. Flexibility in the use of appropriated funding would be most beneficial in helping schools meet financial obligations and would return to and support local control by school boards that Iowans have always desired.

Employee 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. SAI supports additional tools to attract individuals to the teaching profession, such as loan forgiveness programs and grants to make education careers a more attractive consideration. Flexibility within the BoEE regarding licensure requirements and expanded access to the Regents Alternative Pathway to Iowa Licensure programs encouraging private-sector employees to look at career changes to enter education are examples SAI could support. SAI encourages looking at both short-term and long-term solutions and anticipates the recommendations of the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force. Starting pay for teachers has not kept pace with starting pay increases in the private sector. There are also significant challenges for rural schools competing for talent with urban/suburban districts. The $15-an-hour service industry economy makes hiring for support staff challenging as well.

IPERS is also an area that could be used to help address the shortages. 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. SAI supports a five-year initiative to allow teachers to retire under IPERS but return to work after one month, 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. SAI believes this could be a tool to assist in addressing the teacher shortages districts are facing across Iowa.

Funding Equity Issues

  • Dropout Prevention/At-Risk
    Dropout Prevention funding is currently based on the 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. Additionally, many districts are using this funding source to directly support mental health services and issues for their students. SAI supports allowing ALL school districts to establish DoP funding at the 5% level.
     
  • Funding Formula
    SAI supports the inclusion of socioeconomic status in the school foundation formula that acknowledges the unique needs of districts and the populations they serve. These needs have been exacerbated during the pandemic as supports like food pantries and outside resources for struggling families are required. There is a disproportionate cost of providing equal educational opportunities to low-income students. SAI supports the implementation of the December 2019 School Finance Interim Committee formulas that provide resources for students from low-income families.

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. SAI supports 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. SAI urges 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. SAI encourages the Legislature to look at any successes that emerge from the grants awarded and use them to replicate and expand programs across the state.

Work-based learning

SAI supports the expansion and support of work-based learning programs across the state as schools work to provide students with realistic, authentic and successful experiences that better prepare them for life after graduation. Support for coordination of programming/placements would be beneficial to schools, as well as flexibility to offer-and-teach requirements.

Vouchers

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

Additional Legislative Information