Our plan for schools: More funding, more infrastructure, more flexibility and more innovation

Upmeyer column: Over the last several years, we have consistently made schools our top priority. Nearly 45 percent of the state's budget goes K-12 schools, demon-strating our strong commitment to education. Even in difficult budget years, we have protect-ed schools from cuts, and have actually increased funding dur-ing those times.

Our investments are paying off. Here is a small sample showing what a great return on our investment we are get-ting:

o 2,300 new full-time teach-ers in Iowa classrooms

o A student-to-teacher ratio of 13.5 (lower than 2011)

o The highest graduation rate in the country

o One of the top states for ACT test scores

To continue our commitment, the House this week introduced a package of legislation to sup-port our K-12 schools across the state. This package will build upon our past successes and help our schools, especial-ly in rural Iowa.

Our plan addresses four different priorities:

1. Provide schools with an additional $32 million next school year

2. Create a Transportation Support Fund that makes an initial investment of $10 million

3. Create additional flexibil-ity opportunities for school boards and administrators

4. Work to extend the school infrastructure fund

Funding Boost of $32 Mil-lion

We are well on track to set school funding within the first 30 days of session, delivering on our promise to create cer-tainty for schools to plan their budget.

Our plan is to boost K-12 investment by $32 million in new funding for the 2018-19 school year. This will bring total annual funding to more than $3.2 billion, an increase of $765 million since 2011.

We have made record in-vestments in K-12 education over the years and this new funding will continue our com-mitment to schools.

Transportation Support Fund

Many schools across the state face an unequal burden when it comes to transporta-tion costs. Some districts transportation costs are as low as $20 per student while are nearly $1,000. This inequity is especially difficult in rural areas of the state where school dis-tricts are less condensed than their urban counterparts. This means higher costs to bus stu-dents to schools and less mon-ey in the classroom to teach our kids.

We are proposing to create a fund dedicated to reducing these disparities by investing $10 million in new funding towards this effort. This will relieve some pressure on rural school budgets and free up dollars in their General Funds that they can then put to use for educational purposes.

Additional Flexibility Last session, we champi-oned legislation that provided schools with unprecedented flexibility and control over their resources, and we want to build upon these successes from last session.

We will be working hard this session to provide even more flexibility in existing school funds, returning more decision making to locally-elected school boards, rather than directives from Des Moines. Our Education Com-mittee members are working on a bill and will soon begin working it through the pro-cess.

No two schools are exactly alike. There are major differ-ences between schools in Des Moines and schools in rural Iowa. We need to provide them all with more flexibility so they can address the specific needs of their parents, stu-dents, teachers, and communi-ties.

School Infrastructure

In 2008, the Legislature created the SAVE Fund that schools could use for infra-structure improvements. This money is generated from one penny of the statewide sales tax.

When SAVE was first cre-ated, many schools had old buildings that were in need of major repairs or new buildings altogether. This money has been used to create safe schools and ensure that we are keeping up with technology innovations in our classrooms.

The school infrastructure fund has been a critical tool for schools to provide them with the funding and financing nec-essary to improve their facili-ties. However, this fund is set to expire in 2029, making it difficult for schools to bond against the future revenue gen-erated from SAVE.

We will work to extend this important tool for schools this session so that they can con-tinue to make those invest-ments in infrastructure and improve the educational experi-ence for their students. While we are looking at SAVE, we may also include some reforms to the way these dollars are spent to ensure that they are being used for the proper in-tent of the fund.

Overall, this is a compre-hensive school finance plans that will go a long way to pro-vide more funding, more flexi-bility, and more dollars for infrastructure for our K-12 schools. We will continue to work closely with parents, school boards, and school administrators as we move for-ward this session.

I look forward to continu-ing this discussion as we work on additional opportunities that improve Iowa's education sys-tem and ensure that our stu-dents are career-ready when they graduate!

As always, please keep in touch. As legislation moves forward, feel free to send me comments, questions or feedback that you may have regarding issues before us in the House. I can be reached at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or 515-281-3521.