Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Unfunded Mandates

We can be proud of the fact that in Iowa, we averted a government shutdown by ensuring budget bills were presented to the Governor before the end of the fiscal year.  Just in the nick of time too, because the final bill wasn't presented until June 29th (the fiscal year ends on June 30).  With all the controversy surrounding Minnesota's shutdown and the recent debt ceiling debate, it is any wonder anything ever gets done around here.  Nonetheless, Iowa somehow managed to get it's house in order to avert some of the problems seen in other states.  All that being said, it wasn't until just a few days ago that the dust began to settle and we truly are able to see where the appropriations are in the new budget bill.  Because the bill wasn't passed until the eleventh hour, the Governor was granted authority to keep the government running for 30 days in House File 698 while he reviewed the bill.  (HF 698 appropriated 1/12th of the FY11 appropriations for the month of July).
We wanted to paint our hallways in the elementary school
this summer.  Unfortunately that wasn't able to happen because
of the electrical upgrade.  However, we did have several
teachers who volunteered to paint their own classrooms.
Pictured above is one of the finished rooms.  (Mrs. Hottle's 
room is pictured.) 
There was some fear that the Governor would use his line item veto pen to put a stop to some of the previously agreed upon legislation.  My biggest concern was that he would veto the 2% allowable growth for FY13.  Thankfully that wasn't the case.  I won't go into every single detail of the legislation, but I do think it is important to point out a few points in the funding and appropriations this year, especially since we are gearing up for a General Assembly in January that is going to focus on education reform. 

Okay, time to get down to the brass tacks of the topic.  House File 645 is the Educational Appropriations bill that was ultimately signed on July 27th.  The total funding in this bill is $809.9 Million, which is a decrease of $30.7 Million compared to FY11 appropriations.  I won't get into what each line item contains, but I counted twelve appropriations that will experience a cut in FY12.   Many of these will experience a decrease in funding by an average of six percent.  Probably the biggest blow to us and many other school districts is that the state aid portion of the instructional support levy was completely eliminated.  The instructional support levy permits local school districts to increase general fund budget authority by ten percent through a combination of property tax, income surtax, and state aid.  The state aid portion is calculated through a complicated formula, and has been underfunded for years.  By eliminating the state aid portion entirely, Hudson has lost approximately $13,000 in cash and spending authority.  The saying goes "Cash is King", but in Iowa school districts "Spending Authority is King".  There is no mechanism to make up for this loss in authority.

In reference to specific appropriations, some of the difficulty that we are now going to see is [that in some cases] the funding for a particular program has been eliminated, but we are still required by law to provide that service or program.  Then it becomes what we refer to as an unfunded mandate.  One such program is new teacher and administrator mentoring.  It is absolutely critical that our new teachers and administrators have qualified mentors available during their first two years of service to ask questions, problem solve, etc.  Now that the categorical aid has been removed, the funding for that program will have to come from another area of our budget.  Believe me, I am not arguing that we shouldn't have mentorship programs, but there should be a recognition that these programs cost money, and a funding stream should be provided.  Otherwise it has the unintended consequence of diverting money from another area of the budget, such as textbooks.

Granted, this doesn't amount to a lot of money, but when it gets piled on top of other unfunded mandates, it doesn't take long before we are inundated with a plethora of requirements and no way to fund them.  In case you are wondering, there are a number of unfunded mandates that are a part of the legislation.  There have been attempts in this legislation to remove these and other unfunded mandates, but it is tough!

After all, who can argue with the fact that we should be teaching CPR to all students before the graduate?  That is definitely a noble cause.  Or, how about the mandate that we use green cleaning products with our maintenance department.  That is also pretty tough to argue with.  The problem is, that in order to teach CPR, you have to pay to rent equipment, and in many cases an instructor.  Green cleaning products?  Well, they are pretty expensive when compared to traditional products.

The AEA system was also cut by $20 Million, and support to the DE for the implementation of the Iowa Core/Model Core Curriculum was also reduced. 

We are just coming off an educational summit where the talk of the town was, and is, educational reform.  Education reform can happen in our state, and Iowa undoubtedly has the capacity to return to the stature of 'best in the nation'.  It is just a matter of if we are going to be provided with the resources to return our state to greatness.   

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