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Opinion

SSA bill bounces between chambers

A school funding bill, HF 2230, passed the House chamber last week. On a party-line vote, a 1 percent SSA (State Supplementary Assistance) was approved for Iowa schools. A 1 percent SSA is considered very low by both parties, but Republicans contend that a 1 percent increase in basic school aid is all the state can afford for public schools during the coming academic year. Democrats argued that the bill falls well short of what our public schools and students need. When adjusted for inflation, schools have received less than 1 percent each year for the past 8 years. Iowa’s per-pupil funding is now $1,111 below the national average.

That chronically low funding has already forced schools to close buildings, raise class sizes, lay off teachers, and delay critical technology updates. It’s very likely that those trends will continue, as well as force rural districts especially to raise property taxes to pay for their schools.

The 1 percent SSA that the House approved represents about $32 million in state aid for K-12 public schools. However, hours after that House vote, the Iowa Senate amended the measure and passed a bill with $46 million in spending for the coming school year. The Senate amendment provides about $14 million in extra money to address inequities in school aid between school districts and in school transportation funding. The Senate’s amendment passed in the Senate unanimously, with both Democrat and Republican senators praising it.

The Senate bill came back to the House on Thursday afternoon with the Senate amendment attached. The vote failed on Republican votes and the bill will be sent back to the Senate. I was disappointed that we couldn’t achieve the goal of fixing these long-standing inequities.

De-appropriation proposals came out of both chambers this week. These cuts affect this 2018 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Totals of the budget adjustment numbers vary significantly among the Governor ($29.6 million), the Senate ($59.2 million) and the House ($33.7 million). As ranking member of the Judicial Systems budget subcommittee, I’m especially concerned with cuts proposed for the Judicial branch ($4.8M in the Senate version, $2M in the House), corrections ($3.4M in both versions), and public safety ($300K and $500K).

Another House proposed cut that raises huge concern is taking $10M from the Skilled Worker and Job Creation Fund. Gov. Reynolds mentioned this fund as essential for helping Iowa employers find and hire more skilled workers. These jobs would be high quality and higher paying which would benefit the whole state, especially rural Iowa.

Included in the HSB 648 de-appropriations bill is the proposal for supplemental reimbursement of ground emergency medical transportation for Medicaid patients. As I described in last week’s newsletter, Republican Rep. Hinson and I worked on this legislation and are happy to see it moving forward. It is unusual to see it put into the de-appropriations bill instead of the committee bill that was proposed. In either case, we are happy to see it as a priority.

Contact Breckenridge at 515-281-3221 or wes.breckenridge@legis.iowa.gov

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