May 18, 2022

SINCLAIR: Struggles with school workforce is a real issue

Representative of SD14 also wants state aid information out as quick as possible

Editor’s note: The following is the third of four articles detailing the points of interest and goals of local legislators representing Jasper County as they enter into the next legislative session. Iowa Legislature is currently scheduled to convene on Jan. 10, 2022.

Within the next few days the Iowa Legislature will assemble, and State Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, will be able to begin work trying to accomplish her legislative goals for the next year: improving workforce recruitment efforts and getting state aid numbers out in a timely fashion, among other things.

Representing Iowa Senate District 14, Sinclair’s region largely covers Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Marion and Wayne Counties. But the legislator also represents a small portion of Jasper County, including Lynnville, Monroe, Reasnor and Sully.

Sinclair serves on the commerce, judiciary, rules and administration and ways means committees. She is also chair of the education, a title she has secured for some time. The Republican lawmaker also serves the School Finance Formula Review Committee and Regents Universities Study Committee.

Looking back at the past legislative session, Sinclair is proud of lawmakers for meeting a State Supplemental Aid (SSA) above or at the level of inflation, which she said is still able to cover the costs of school districts. At the same time, the legislature was able to put extra dollars towards equity issues.

For years Sinclair has made it a goal to address equity issues. She said the legislature maintained the funding levels for transportation equity so that the state is buying every school district down to the statewide average. Lawmakers were also able to give additional funding to costs-per-pupil inequities.

Similar to her fellow Republican lawmakers, Sinclair touted the state’s tax cuts as a big win. As a result of those cuts, she is excited to give eight years of about $1 billion in tax reform back to Iowans and still end the fiscal year with a large surplus. Sinclair looks forward to the statehouse reforming the system further.

“So that it’s targeting the right amount to keep Iowans working and our economy healthy,” Sinclair said. “Unrelated to legislation we passed (last year), I was excited to see Iowa was the No. 1 state for (economic) recovery from COVID, based on rankings from the Council of State Governments.”

FINDING WORKFORCE SOLUTIONS

Workforce issues are prevalent across the United States. But Sinclair wants to also specifically focus on workforce recruitment and retention in education. In a lot of cases, but particularly in education, Sinclair said the pandemic prompts some folks on the verge of retiring to finally retire.

“We’ve got more educators exiting the profession than we have entering,” she said. “We knew that we were having fewer and fewer folks going into education … We didn’t force necessarily those early retirements that ended up happening surrounding COVID. So we’ve got some real issues there.”

Struggles in staffing extend past the classroom, too. Many school districts are having trouble finding bus drivers, paraeducators and cooks, for instance. It’s a tight job market for school districts’ non-certified staff, Sinclair said.

DETERMINING STATE AID

Every year Sinclair’s goal is to always get the funding number out for schools within the first 30 days of the legislative session. The legislature is legally obligated to determine the funding for districts. Having this number helps districts know what they can plan on budgeting for in the next fiscal year.

“School districts have to have their budgets certified long before the legislature is out of session. So if we left it until the very end with the rest of the budgeting items that we do, school districts would have to certify a budget based on something that they don’t even know,” Sinclair said.

By having the state aid determination out in mid-February, districts have time to set levies and get budgets certified by the April 15 deadline, she added. From a budgetary standpoint, school districts need the number out as quickly as possible to be able to set their budgets locally and submit its information to the state.

LOOKING AT THE STATE’S TAX SYSTEM

Although not necessarily a main priority of her’s, Sinclair said because of the large ending fund balance there will be another look at once again looking at the state’s tax system. Because of the taxpayer trust fund, she said the state is obligated to return those dollars to taxpayers or give them some sort of tax relief.

“I’m sure we will be looking at our tax system again just because we are going to be legally obligated to with the carry over balance that we had,” Sinclair said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated going into a pandemic and a recession having the ending fund balance that we did.”

Sinclair said Iowans should be happy about the surplus, because it means the state’s economy is really booming.

“Even in the face of what’s going on across the rest of the nation, we still have very low unemployment rates, people are working, income tax/sales tax continue to be high. And so when those revenues are high and you’re seeing those ending fund balances, it largely means things are going well for folks in Iowa,” she said.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.