Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lowered Expectations

Leading up to the legislative session, I read a few articles that indicated this session would be a short one, a mere 100 days in length. I believe a normal session runs about 110 days, so that makes this one about two weeks shorter. Considering legislators only meet four days out of the week, that doesn't leave a lot of time for solving the problems of the state and developing policy that will enable us to move forward. Why the shortened session?

Because it is an election year. Legislators need to finish early so they can get home to start their campaign season. Prior to the start of this session, lawmakers from both caucuses made comments [that] issues which didn't receive consensus relatively quickly would likely fall by the wayside. Do you think this sends the message that being re-elected is more important than solving problems or rocking the boat? That's kind of the message that I am getting.

I suppose that means we should all lower our expectations and not expect anything too exciting or earth shattering to happen. After all, the agenda that was presented for consideration by the Governor in his annual Condition of the State Address was relatively modest.

Last week I attended the winter meeting of the Executive Leaders of Iowa in Ankeny. This group is comprised of superintendents from around the state and is an offshoot of the School Administrators of Iowa. The group meets quarterly, and our winter meeting is always aligned with the legislative session. We consider ourselves fortunate to have in attendance a balanced legislative panel (Democrats and Republicans) consisting of the Chairs of both the Senate and House Committee(s) on education. During our meeting there was no shortage of criticism from Iowa superintendents at the refusal of the House of Representatives to take up the issue of Supplemental State Aid. At the writing of this post, the Senate education committee has agreed to set Supplemental State aid at 6% and the full Senate is expected to vote this week. The House has held firm that they will not take up the issue, which is in line with the Governor.

For reasons why this is important, please refer to my post last week. I am not going to rehash those arguments again now, but was struck by a comment from one of my colleagues. It goes a little something like this:
"We hired you, right--elected you to come down here and do the work of the state--work for us. But you ignore the law that says you need to set supplemental state aid within 30 days of the Governor's budget. (See Code of Iowa 257.8) How is that right?"
The answer is unimportant, because by now we have all heard the same talking points. Ironically the reasons from each member are all the same--they borrowed the same song sheet, same play book, and same script...What it really does is go to the point that we started this blog with. Any issue that doesn't reach consensus quickly will be left for the next General Assembly. Again there are a lot of problems with this approach (notwithstanding violating Iowa Code) that have been argued time and time again. I guess that we need to lower our expectations.

Any issue that doesn't reach consensus quickly. My interpretation of that is 'safe' issues. Ones that aren't too controversial. Those that won't anger the voters, after all this is an election year. 

So then, about those low hanging fruit, the non-controversials? Well, we were honored to have the Governor and Lt. Governor attend our meeting on Friday morning. Governor Branstad had prepared remarks and wanted to spend his time with us talking about his education agenda for this legislative session. After finishing his prepared remarks, he opened up the floor for questions. I give him a lot of credit for this, because he had to know that superintendents wanted to talk about school funding, but it was very clear that he was uninterested in talking about Allowable Growth (or Supplemental State Aid as it is now called which he was sure to point out).

Anyway the 'signature' piece of education legislation the Governor wanted to talk about was proposed changes to the State's anti-bullying law, specifically a proposal to deal with cyber-bullying (which we all agree needs to be looked at). The proposal is designed to extend the authority of school administrators to incidents that happen beyond the confines of a school day. There are a couple of litmus tests that must be met, but the premise of the law gives administrators the authority to take action on cyber-bullying that takes place at night and on the weekends. Now there are many questions that need to be answered before this becomes a law, but that is not the purpose of this post. There is an appropriation of $25,000 (statewide) to get the new law up and running. At roughly 480,000 students in the state that works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of a nickel a kid. 

Lowered expectations.

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