Tuesday, February 6, 2018

They Won't Know Unless You Tell Them

This is the time of year where I have a lot of travel to and from Des Moines. With the legislative session now in full swing, it is partly my responsibility to advocate on behalf of Hudson schools and for education policy that improves public schools all around the state. But here is the thing: legislators expect to hear from me, and the majority of the time know what I am going to say when I approach them in the rotunda of the Capitol. In some ways, meeting with me is not all that impactful. Sure, I can provide information and facts to back up my position, but at the end of the day I'm just a hired guy in a suit doing my job. 

But for the vast majority of you reading this right now, you have a much more powerful voice, and one that resonates deeply with our legislators. You are a parent, a grandparent, or member of our community that has a connection to our school that will cause legislators to pay close attention. Where I can speak clinically, offer facts, and talk about the real life application of the policy that is being debated; you can speak passionately about your children, your community, and how important your public school district is to you. It is within that frame I urge you to become involved and advocate on behalf of your local public school district! Plus, you don't have to 'go it alone', and try to figure out what to say, who to say it to, and how to gain access.

There are some great resources and groups that can help get you started. First, check out Parents for Great Iowa Schools. This grass roots non partisan organization has membership in every county in Iowa and does a fantastic job of sharing information on current legislation that affects our public school system. Then, there is also the Iowa Association of School Boards, which launched the 'Promise of Iowa' campaign at the beginning of the last legislative session in an effort to focus on the future of public education in Iowa and to "rally support to ensure our public schools lead the nation." Either of these resources can help get you started in your advocacy efforts. As always, I stand ready to assist you in your advocacy, because I can't begin to emphasize enough the impact your voice can have on this dialogue. The time to act is now, because legislation will begin to move very quickly as we approach the first funnel and the legislators have set a goal to finish this session early.

Iowa superintendents visit with legislators on January 31st.
I anticipate this week we will learn what supplemental state aid will be. By law, it must be set with 30 days of the governor's release of her budget, which happens annually during the Condition of the State address. That 30 day deadline is February 9th, and both the House and Senate have indicated they intend to move forward with a 1% increase in the cost per pupil. While this is less than the 1.5% the governor recommended, we are appreciative of the fact there is an increase to the cost per pupil, and it appears to be on a fast track to approval. Certainly more growth is needed, but with the status of the state budget there were some who thought schools wouldn't see an increase at all. In real dollars, this increases our district cost per pupil by $67 to $6,906, which equates to a .74% increase for Hudson or $33,940.

The legislature is also working out details on a larger education bill that will include a couple of items I believe will be helpful to our school district. Among them are the extension of the SAVE, which for us is particularly important as we begin a feasibility study where we will consider broadening the scope of upgrades and renovations to our facilities (more on that later). There is also a desire on the part of the legislature to expand on the flexibility that was given to school districts last year, specifically with regard to categorical funding mechanisms. 

But at the same time these bills are being debated, we have concerns about other discussions that on the horizon. Among them are plans to overrule the recommendations of the State Board of Education and decree Iowa Testing Program as the vendor to administer and develop the statewide assessment, which will be the next generation of the Iowa Assessments. Based on their history of misalignment, we should all be asking questions about the logic behind this move. Then of course, last week we discussed the idea of school choice and voucher programs. Any introduction of vouchers will have a negative impact on our school.

So I urge you to get involved and contact your legislator! Our Representative is Walt Rogers and our Senator is Jeff Danielson. Thank them for the work they have done on behalf of Iowa public schools, and respectfully challenge them on the issues being debated that will not strengthen our public school system. If you don't give them input and feedback someone else will. And that someone else may encourage them to do something we don't support.

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