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Senate sets new standard for ‘slow’

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 11:36 a.m. CST

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We are all familiar with the phrase: “Slow as molasses in January”.  However, given the Iowa Senate’s lethargic action on Education Reform that oft quoted expression may soon be replaced.

The debate on Education Reform continues in the Iowa Legislature, but at a very slow pace.  This is just as frustrating as it is unfortunate for our public school administrators who have been pleading with the Legislature, early on in the session, to move quickly on an Education Reform package that provides adequate funding for our public schools.

This would be a good time to provide a quick recap of how this legislation has moved.

Back on Feb. 20, the House passed House File 215 sending it on to the Senate.  The bill sat idle in the Senate for 42 days until it passed out of committee on April 2.  Fortunately, it only took one more day to reach the Senate Floor and was voted out on April 3rd.

The House promptly responded on April 4 by choosing not to concur with the Senate’s complete rewrite of the original bill, which sent House File 215 to conference committee.  Once the conferees were appointed and the committee was established, it took less than a week (April 10) for the House to offer a compromise solution that attempted to satisfy the priorities of both chambers.

The House compromise met the Senate’s allowable growth numbers offering 2 percent plus a 2 percent one-time payment in Fiscal Year 2014 and 4 percent in Fiscal Year 2015.  In return, the House asked the Senate to accept the House’s policy language, language which had the support of 45 groups interested in education, including nearly every major education association. 

The Senate spent the following week bashing the House proposal before finally offering a counter proposal on April 18 at 11 a.m.  It accepted the House’s idea on allowable growth but required the House to make a $30 million per year block grant permanent and accept all of the Senate’s language on the leadership ladder plan, tossing out all the House’s provisions protecting parental choice in education.

Within hours on the same day (3 p.m.), the House offered a response agreeing to a 2-year extension of the block grant (to line up with the 2-year budgeting cycle) and insisting on the House’s ladder program and the other provisions in House File 215.  One week later (April 25), as I write this column, there has been no response from the Senate on that proposal.

This is what has happened in a nutshell.  The House has moved to the Senate’s numbers on allowable growth and has agreed to continue funding the block grant.  The Senate has yet to give ground on any significant policy issues.  The House has made good faith proposals showing we are willing to work and meet the Senate halfway on several of their concerns.  

What cannot be compromised, however, is the House version of the leadership pathway plan, a plan that was given to the Legislature by a Task Force that the Legislature put together last year to study the issue.  It is a plan that is effectively in place in other parts of the country; A plan that the Federal Government has issued grants to further implement around the country; And a plan that was put together by a broad coalition of education stakeholders over the summer last year.  

Furthermore, the House cannot compromise on policy that protects parental choice in education and will not back down on measures that help to ensure accountability and academic achievement after $400 million worth of additional funding are invested in Iowa’s educational system.

House File 215 provides all of this.  It is time for the Senate leadership to quit dragging its feet and using this issue as a political football.  The House has proven that it stands ready to resolve the differences surrounding education funding and reform.  We have been earnest in our efforts to get things done for the people of Iowa, especially on Education.  How about the Senate?  Please review the above timeline once more and decide for yourself.

I appreciate and welcome your comments and feedback.  Please feel free to contact me with your issues or concerns as they arise either by phone at (515) 281-3221, e-mail at greg.heartsill@legis.iowa.gov, or in person when visiting the Capitol or a town hall forum. Also, if you would like to subscribe to my weekly electronic newsletter, please send a quick note via e-mail and I’ll put you on the list.

On Friday, May 3, I will be at Wilson’s Corner in Bussey at 6:30 a.m., Melcher-Dallas City Hall at 2 p.m., and Attica Fire Station at 6:30 p.m.  I hope to see you at one of these forums.

I am honored to be your representative in the Iowa Legislature.  Until next time, God bless!

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