Legislative Action Priorities

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2020-21 Legislative Action Priorities

Sioux City Community School District Board of Directors

1. Student Equity: State and District Cost Per Pupil

History: When the Iowa school foundation formula was created, school districts had previously funded schools almost entirely with local property taxes. The level of support varied due to many factors, including community support for the priority of education and local property tax capacity. The formula defined a State Cost Per Pupil (SCPP) and brought all districts spending less than that amount up to the cost, paid for with a combination of local property tax and state foundation aid. Only those districts previously spending more than the newly defined SCPP were allowed to continue to spend more, paid for with local property tax. Although the formula was created in the mid-1970s, the difference between the SCPP and a higher District Cost Per Pupil (DCPP) has remained.

Current Reality: In FY 2021, the State Cost per Pupil (SCPP) is $7,048, which includes $10 per student the legislature dedicated to closing this gap. Of the 327 school districts in Iowa, 197 districts (48.8%) are limited to this amount as their District Cost per Pupil (DCPP). The other 130 districts (51.2%) have a DCPP ranging from $7,049 to $7,203, or $1 to $155 more PER STUDENT. This extra amount is funded with property taxes. Under current law, this $155 difference will continue to exist into the future, accessible to some districts but not others.

Action Needed: Short of a state appropriation of an estimated $72 million to cover this gap, the amount required for the state to assume the entire amount of DCPP already paid with property taxes in those districts that have authority plus the supplement for those districts that don’t have it, there are other possible solutions that would promote equity without lowering the per pupil amount available for any school district. The Sioux City Community School District supports:

  • Giving all local districts spending authority for the difference and allowing school boards to decide locally whether to fund it.
  • Setting the state cost per pupil at the highest amount but lower the foundation percentage threshold from 87.5% to an amount that balances the impact on the state and on property taxes. Since many districts have sufficient cash, it is likely there will be little cash reserve levy impact for several years in many districts.
  • The Legislature and Governor have made progress in the last three years, closing the gap by $5, $5, and then by $10 per pupil in the most recent year. This is good progress but will take an additional 15-16 years if the commitment to an additional $10 per year is maintained. As the economy bounces back from the current COVID predicament, the state effort should be redoubled.
  • A combination of two of the above would also be possible – simply put, we must have spending authority in the meantime, and we could close the funding gap over the long haul. In conclusion, in order to achieve equity, the funding formula must be updated to account for the status
    of poverty in our state, provide stability during times of low economic growth, and supplement existing resources.

2. Adequate Funding through State Supplemental Assistance

Background: The Iowa Legislature annually determines the state cost per pupil. This action, formerly known as allowable growth, now known as state supplemental assistance, pays for the annual cost of doing business in Iowa schools. In the last decade, during and since the great recession, Iowa’s state cost per pupil has experienced record low increases, falling far short of the cost increase of delivering a sound education. In ten of the last eleven years, the rate of growth in the state cost per pupil has been lower than the cost increases typically experienced by school districts.

Current Reality: Iowa total expenditures per pupil continue to lag the rest of the nation. Although Iowa improved its ranking for the 2018-19 school year to 30th, from 31st in 2017-18, Iowa per pupil expenditures for PK-12 schools per student in fall enrollment are still $1,329below the national average. This shortfall is 10.5% below the US average, despite the fact that Iowa’s per capita personal income is only 4.4% below national average, the costs of staff salaries and benefits continue to rise, as do the costs of curriculum, textbooks, utilities, transportation and supplies. Additional requirements demand more resources: closing achievement gaps, early literacy efforts, summer school, before- and after-school programs, English-language learner supports, increasing STEM programs, internships and future ready workforce investments, implementation of higher expectations through the Iowa Core and the goal to graduate every student college or career ready for a successful future.

Action Needed: In order to fulfill the goal of regaining Iowa’s number one in the nation education status and delivering world-class schools, the Sioux City Community School District supports the provision of adequate funding, which we know, spent wisely, will prepare our students for success. The Sioux City District supports a goal to get Iowa’s investment in education to the national average, currently $1,329 per pupil above Iowa’s current level of expenditure. These resources are best delivered to schools through the school foundation formula, which preserves the most local flexibility in use of funding to benefit students. Funding for teacher leadership and other reform efforts will not deliver intended results if Iowa continues to short cut regular education investment for students.

The Sioux City Community School District Board of Education also encourages the legislature to consider creative ways to provide flexibility in resources for school districts that may not require additional funding; examples of this nature could include reopening the concept of the Iowa Energy Bank, where school districts could borrow money to engage in energy efficient projects, repaying the loan through savings garnered from the higher levels of energy efficiency.

3. Educational Savings Accounts

Background: Some in the Iowa Legislature have shown an increased focus on school choice, the same versions of school choice promoted at the federal level that can only yield reductions in education funding to public schools, so that families use taxpayer money to fund private religious and for-profit education options. The research on the impact of school choice is mixed throughout our country, with no clear evidence that school choice yields higher outcomes for students. Our public schools are well designed to provide a range of choices for parents and students. Iowa has historically celebrated one of the strongest educational systems in the nation, and our public schools are the backbone of the strength in education programming. Commonly, school choice laws vary, with most lacking adequate public accountability and oversight. While it is apparent that the legislature may continue to consider and discuss educational savings accounts; another term for vouchers, to find ways to allow tax dollars to be used for private religious and for-profit education, the Sioux City Community School District’s Board of Directors believes that any change to school choice law must be opposed.

Current Reality: In the state of Iowa, we have student school tuition organizations (STO’s), which provide a vehicle for taxpayers to receive tax credits for donations that then generates grant funding for private school tuition. Also, there are direct tuition tax credits to parents, which provide direct relief to taxes paid to parents who choose to place their students in a private school at their own cost. In Iowa, as STO’s are currently capped at $15M. Iowa’s tuition and textbook credit is available to both public and nonpublic school parents for 25% of the first thousand dollars of expenses. An educational savings account is the same as a voucher where funding is allocated to an account that may be used for tutoring, curriculum and other approved services in addition to tuition. Bills were introduced in the last four years to authorize ESA’s in Iowa. While none of the bills gained traction, due at least in part to the estimated cost of $240M and the states low revenue situation, we remain concerned that continued attention will be placed on this issue in the future.

Action Needed: The Sioux City Community School District’s Board of Directors believes that Iowa law provides sufficient choice through public schools, public charter schools, open enrollment, homeschool assistant, put post-secondary enrollment options, and nonpublic school alternatives. Additional tax credits towards nonpublic tuition for investments in options without oversight are not necessary to provide choice to the families in Iowa. All schools that receive any public funds, including property taxes, state aid or federal monies, should be subject to the exact same governance and educational standards as the public school districts currently attain. The state should provide full funding to public schools to meet the evolving needs of public school students before even considering additional financial supports for non-public schools.

4. Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS)

Background: IPERS is a defined benefit pension plan where both the public employee and the public employer contribute. The Iowa Legislature in a bipartisan bill established IPERS on July 4, 1953 to replace the Old Age Survivors Insurance System (IOASI). Iowa Code 97B was written to govern IPERS and its trust fund establishing IPERS as an independent agency of the Executive Branch of state government. For over a half century IPERS has helped public employees plan for retirement and then maintain financial independence after retirement.

Current Reality: During the last session of the Iowa Legislature, the majority party in Iowa discussed the creation of a task force to study IPERS funding. That task force was never formed. Instead, the Legislature will consider the recommendations from an out of state think tank that will make recommendations to the next Legislative session.

The strong belief among public employee groups is that there is a move within the Iowa Legislature to change IPERS from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. In essence, this would change a dependable benefit retirement system into a 401(k) plan where retirement is determined by the market instead of by a formula based on contributions from the employee and the employer. A move to a hybrid retirement system where younger public employees are provided a defined contribution system (401k) while veteran employees have defined benefit will in the long term destroy the system and harm public employees. Iowa will be facing a growing educator shortage, and this proposed retirement change will greatly compound this problem.

Action Needed: The Sioux City Community School District’s Board of Directors supports maintaining IPERS as a defined benefit program governed by the Benefits Advisory Committee (BAC), and any changes needed to be made should be done based on the recommendations of BAC and independent actuaries.

5. Early Childhood Education

Background: The Sioux City School Board recommends an increase in weighted funding in the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program (SWVPP) for children living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($43,440 for a family of three in 2020). Allowing flexible spending of preschool dollars will enhance our ability to meet the diverse and unique needs of the District.

The Sioux City Community School District manages various early education programs, funded by a variety of sources, including Head Start and the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program (SWVPP). The SWVPP was established in 2007 to provide 10 hours per week of early education to all four-year-old children in Iowa. During the first four years of the program, the state funded students at .6 per pupil cost for one full-time student. In the 2011-2012 school year, the funding allocation was decreased to .5 per pupil cost for one full-time student. While funding has decreased, costs for the program continue to rise.

Current Reality: Iowa has the highest rate in the nation of households with all available parents working outside of the home. Providing only 10 hours per week of early learning programming presents challenges to parents having to secure an environment to care for their children during the remaining hours of the week while they work. One in six Iowa children lives in poverty while one in five is food insecure. Recent efforts at providing flexibility in Preschool funding have allowed districts to pay for transportation and translation services, food and support staff. However, that flexibility was not accompanied by an increase in the weighting commensurate with the needs of students in high-poverty districts.

Preschool supports a Child’s Educational Success. Providing a high-quality early learning environment for children establishes a solid foundation that enables children to start school ready to learn. Without a quality early learning experience, children can start school up to 18 months behind their peers. Research found that for every $1 spent on quality early learning environments, $7 are saved in the long term on expenditures such as special education, high school dropouts, juvenile and criminal justice, and social welfare programs.

Action Needed: Students who continue to fall short of proficiency standards, are not prepared for success in school by the time they reach third grade. Research has shown that low-income children who experience high-quality preschool environments score better on third grade reading assessments than their peers without a strong preschool experience. We request additional preschool funds, including a consideration of an additional preschool weighting for low-income or non-English speaking students, and the flexibility in funds to support the costs associated with wrap-around services required for our neediest students and families.

6. Expanded Support for English Language Learners

Background: The Sioux City School Board recommends extension of weighted English Language Learner (ELL) funding from five years to seven years per pupil, in accordance with evidence-based practice. Additional flexibility in funds and blending funds should also be considered to meet the diverse needs of ELL students and families.

Current Reality: English Language Learners (ELL) are the fastest growing group of students in the Sioux City School District, representing 18% of the student population. The District serves more than 2,200 ELL students, with committed teachers and staff, at many different sites in the community. The diverse student population represents nearly 40 different languages and dialects. Currently, Iowa school districts are provided ELL weighted funding (.22) for five years per student.

Action Needed: We need more funding and more years of funding to better prepare our students. Extending the length of eligible funding will increase the length of services provided to ELL students and help develop their proficiency in the English language so they can be successful in the educational setting. Evidence-based practice identifies seven years as the length of time needed to achieve academic English proficiency and acclimate students to the culture and educational environment. ELL students would benefit from additional time given the amount of learning required to achieve proficiency in a second language. The belief that children immersed in the English language will accelerate proficiency does not align with research. We believe that children benefit from learning in their primary language before a secondary language can be effectively taught, and this process takes time. The Sioux City Schools continues to enroll students from around the world. The critical needs of these students, in addition to learning English, are multiple and resource intensive. The ELL student graduation rate in the state is 79.3%, compared with Iowa’s overall graduation rate of 91.4%. Additional resources are necessary to close this gap through the increase of ELL Weighting, especially for those ELL students well below proficiency.

7. Expanded Support for Mental Health Funding

Background: The Sioux City School Board supports increased access to and funding for mental health services for children.

Current Reality: School districts are encountering more serious mental health issues at earlier ages than in the past. Meanwhile, the state lacks a comprehensive strategy for providing support and funding children’s mental health services.

Action Needed: Additional efforts are needed at the state level to establish and fund comprehensive community mental health systems to offer preventative and treatment services and comprehensive school mental health programs that include in-school access for students to mental health professionals and provisions for reimbursement by Medicaid and private insurers. In addition, funding for additional and ongoing teacher, administrator, and support staff training to improve the awareness and understanding of child emotional and mental health needs is needed.

8. School Board Local Control

Background: SF 2310 On-line Learning and COVID Flexibility, passed during the 2020 Session, empowered local school boards to determine, based on their return-to-learn plans, which method of instruction is best for students and community while balancing the needs of safety for staff and students with the benefits of in-person instruction. The Governor and Department of Education’s interpretation and subsequent guidance concerning SF 2310 does not respect the ability and authority of those closest to our students and communities, local school boards, to make the best decisions for students. The Iowa Code 274.3 Exercise of Powers, gives school boards broad and implied powers not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly and administrative rules adopted by state agencies related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools. The Code further requires the law to be liberally construed to effectuate the purposes of local control.

Current Reality: Current DE Guidance, following the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation, requires an additional step of DE approval for school districts to transition a school building or the entire district to required continuous learning, even if our local school board determines, in consultation with our Woodbury County Public Health leaders, that such a model would benefit our students and community and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Action Needed: The legislature already authorized local school boards to make these decisions, following the Governor’s declaration of public health emergency in SF 2310. We would respectfully request that the Governor’s next public health emergency respect the local control of school boards to determine what’s best for our staff and students. We encourage the Legislature to continue to provide additional flexibility and authority for local school leaders to decide the future course which best supports the success of our communities and students.