This week, committee members worked tirelessly to pass priority legislation ahead of the first legislative funnel deadline. Legislative funnels were first enacted in the Iowa Legislature in 1979 as a bipartisan solution to keep session running on schedule, encourage members to work together on important issues, and help narrow the focus on which bills move through the entire legislative process.
One issue House Republicans are excited to work on this session is increasing spending flexibility for local school districts. With tight budgets at both the state and local level, the conversation has centered on how to use existing dollars more effectively. Under current law, school districts have funding “silos” that, in some cases, too tightly restrict their ability to use available money in a way that makes the most sense for their schools. By giving more power back to local districts, they will be able to expand the reach of their available resources.
Two of the bills eligible for consideration next week that work to accomplish this goal are House Study Bill 178 and House File 446.
House Study Bill 178 – Flexibility for School District Funds
When new programs are created, certain guidelines are attached to the funding schools receive, dictating how they can spend the funds. These parameters are necessary, but in some cases prove to be too narrow and need to be loosened. This bill makes changes to a number of funds, including Professional Development funding, At-risk and Dropout funding, Preschool funding, PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding, and Talented and Gifted (TAG) funding*, by adding additional allowable expenses meant to help further the goals of the program. It also includes language to provide additional flexibility regarding rules and guidelines handed down from the Department of Education.
*The Education Committee recommended changes on the TAG funding provision in the bill. This component will likely be addressed as we continue work on the bill.
House File 446 – School District Flexibility Fund
Due to narrow parameters around certain funding silos, school districts are unable to fully utilize their resources and they accumulate unused funds year after year. There are currently over 74 identified sources of funding in which school districts statewide have leftover funds totaling more than $146 million in Fiscal Year 2015 (a $17.5 million increase over FY 2014). Much of this funding cannot be touched or used.
HF 446 seeks to create a new “Flexibility Fund” to collect some of these dollars to be used in a broader fashion while keeping with the direction of the original source of the funds. This fund would give districts more spending authority, help them access some of this unused funding, and use the money to provide more high-quality programming, and a stronger educational environment overall.
House Republicans recognize that each school district is different and faces unique challenges and opportunities. By loosening the strings attached to education dollars, we aim to give schools the ability to meet the needs of their individual districts.