Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Held Harmless? Sort of...

Well, the legislative session has concluded and we will spend the next several months analyzing the variety of policy changes to determine the impact on programming. Whether or not this session was successful depends largely on your point of view and political affiliation, but as I stated a few weeks ago all can probably agree the major theme that emerged from the session was 'tight budget'. 

For those of you that have followed me a while know that one of my major complaints, when it has come to the legislature, has been an inability to determine state supplemental aid (SSA) in a timely manner. Prior to this year, state law required school aid to be set 18 months in advance so school districts would have ample time to make program and staffing adjustments. That law changed this session, now requiring state aid to be set within 30 days of the governor releasing his budget recommendations for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. This was followed up with the legislature setting supplemental state aid at 1.11%, which was about half of what the governor recommended. Well, if you know me (and most of you do), you understand what I think about that!

But alas, I won't complain because at the same time schools saw a 1.11% increase in state aid, many other areas of state government weren't that lucky. The math just isn't favorable: following a cut in excess of $100 Million at the onset of this legislative session, the Revenue Estimating Committee (REC) adjusted revenue projections downward by $191 Million for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. The truth is, had the legislature delayed setting SSA until the March REC provided its estimate, we would not have even received the 1.11%, so we should (and do) consider ourselves lucky. 

At the same time this happened, the revenue projections for the current fiscal year were adjusted downward once again. This time though, instead of another budget cut, the legislature opted to dip into the reserve fund to fill this gap, which I agree was the wiser course of action. However, a commitment was made to replenish this fund immediately with the new fiscal year, making an already tight budget even tighter. The fact is, I am grateful to see the increase in funding (as small as it is) and we will work hard to maintain the fiscal discipline that we have come to expect in our school district. Moving forward I will continue to advocate for adequate funding in our school district, but the point worth making is this: I get it. 

However, to suggest that school districts were held completely harmless when it comes to the budget cuts isn't entirely accurate. For starters, appropriations dedicated to mentoring and induction programs were eliminated from the budget. Now, at the same time the legislature decided to eliminate this funding, they changed the law that required mentoring and induction. Since the legislature has been sensitive to 'unfunded mandates', a mandated mentoring and induction program for new teachers is no longer required. I don't know about you, but eliminating this type of program for new teachers just doesn't seem like a good idea. Of course we will still offer this program, but the money will have to come from another source. The appropriation that was used to support the implementation of the Iowa Core Academic Standards was also eliminated, and while a smaller amount it is, nonetheless, a cut. Truthfully, these are all relatively small dollar amounts, but when you add up a lot of smaller numbers, it tends to turn into a bigger number! Another collateral loss in funding was the elimination of $2 million from the AEAs that was specifically appropriated in order to help school districts implement teacher leadership and compensation systems. 

So the big takeaway here is that although the funding isn't where we would have preferred it to be, it could have been a lot worse--so that should be considered a bright spot. And, there were some other policy areas where I believe we made some very positive gains, especially when it comes to flexibility! We'll talk more about those next week! 

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