MP school board talks funding with local legislature
BY KARYN SPORY
Mt. Pleasant News
Having the ear of local State legislatures Monday night, the Mt. Pleasant School Board talked money, unfunded mandates and school vouchers.
During a legislative advocacy meeting with State Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant) and State Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant), which was requested by Superintendent John Henriksen, both legislatures acknowledged the new landscape within the state.
“The landscape has changed,” said Taylor. “There is no longer a split in the control.”
Heaton said he had worked in a Republican controlled legislature once before, when he first started out in politics, and he warned it wasn’t “very pretty”.
“I don’t look for the smoothest of sessions at all,” he said. “I think that the Senate has been a minority for so long they have forgotten what it’s like to be a majority. My fear is that they will not recognize the new position they are in. What you do work for is the entire state, not just for your personal, political philosophy.”
During his opening remarks, Taylor signified he was ready to sign onto a bill proposing a 6 percent levy for education. Heaton, however, said allowable growth that significant would likely never pass.
Heaton gave an account of how the budget, over the past two years, has been comprised and said once again new revenue will be lower than what was estimated. And once again, this will leave little money left over, which will have to fund Medicare and education. “It’s about our youth and our elderly and it shouldn’t be a choice,” he said.
In regards to funding, Henriksen made it clear that the district is against unfunded mandates. “One of the priorities that we have passed along to IASB (Iowa Association of School Boards) is no more unfunded mandates,” he said. “If there’s not funding, and I know funding is going to be difficult, but if there’s no funding coming along with a change to a new state assessment, that’s a cost that is going to be very difficult for us.”
Henriksen was referring to the state changing its student assessments from FAST to Iowa Smarter Balanced or Iowa Assessment.
“I know there was a committee that has looked at both and went with Smarter Balanced,” said board member Dave Christensen.
Christensen said he personally preferred Smarter Balanced because it encourages conversation towards the new standards – are children ready for post-secondary or is there a gap – rather than just testing to see if they are in the top 40 percentile. “Which doesn’t mean you’re college ready,” he said of the old marker. “And I don’t think Iowa Assessment encourages that conversation as much.”
Christensen said he was concerned that the state was not providing enough funds for professional development for Smarter Balanced, which would expand the conversation of whether students are college and career ready.
The conversation quickly turned to the hot button topic of school vouchers. Taylor said the Republican side of the Senate, which now has majority, has long been a proponent of the voucher system.
School vouchers, also referred to as opportunity scholarships, are state-funded scholarships that pay for students to attend a school – private or public – outside of their district.
Director of Instruction Katie Gavin said private schools would not be a fan of the voucher system, as they would have to give up student tuition organizations (STOs), which according to Gavin, make up the majority of private school funding. Gavin said money from vouchers would not compare to that of the STOs.
Henriksen added that the state already has a voucher system. “It’s called open enrollment,” he said.
During the evening, the legislatures and school board members also touched on transportation funding as well as the penny sales tax.
“That penny was a local option, way back when. It was voted on by the counties and I think using that penny in any way different that what it was originally intended is immoral, from a tax standpoint,” he said.
Last year, Gov. Terry Branstad discussed extending the penny sales tax, which is set to expire in 2029, by allowing three-eights of the penny to go for the state’s water quality.
Before the meeting adjourned, Henriksen brought one last item to the table. “There’s one more thing, and it won’t cost you any money at all,” he quipped.
Henriksen’s request was that the legislatures discuss lowering school board terms from four to three years.
A four-year term, Henriksen said, is typically hard to fill. Also, the four-year term didn’t have the intended effect of saving counties money when it came to holding elections.