What we did:
Balanced the Budget: We passed a conservative budget that puts taxpayers first as we have done for the past 9 years, one that spends $8.1 billion, close to last year’s budget. This is a fiscally responsible budget that fills the emergency reserve funds to their required levels while leaving a healthy ending balance which allows us to be able to respond to unexpected expenses or shortfalls. At the same time, we made sure the essential priority functions of state government were funded, like education, the workforce initiatives, Medicaid, and public safety and our court system. This year we were able to put some additional needed funding towards rural broadband, our nursing homes, home and community-based services, adult & children’s mental health, the prison system, the State Highway Patrol, the Department of Criminal Investigation, child & family services, our courts, and flood recovery efforts. Basically, we are managing the budget the same as you have to do in your home or business.
Broadband: We appropriated $100 million in our budget to build out high speed internet access to unserved and underserved areas of the state.
Future Ready Iowa: The governor’s workforce initiative to help get students trained in the mid-level skills needed for our manufacturers, skills like welding, CNC machining, HVAC, etc. The $16 million in this program will go from those students mainly to community colleges who are the primary trainers of these workforce skills.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit: Expanded the Beginning Farmer program eligibility.
Emergency Medical Services: Provides a pathway for a county to make EMS an essential service and eased the regulations to make it easier to invest in an EMS.
What we still have left to do: We will continue to look for ways to cut taxes while at the same time adequately fund Iowa’s spending priorities. Our goals are leaving more money in Iowans’ pockets, creating an economic environment favorable for growth, and making Iowa more economically competitive with other states.
What we did:
In-Person Learning: We required K-12 schools during the COVID pandemic to give parents an in-person learning option. Keeping kids out of the classroom has resulted in significant learning loss and disruption of many families so we wanted to ensure that every family that wants in-person learning would be able to get it.
Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit & Teacher Expense Deduction: We raised the teacher expense deduction to $500 and the tuition and textbook tax credit to 25% of the first $2000 for each dependent in private K-12 school. Homeschoolers were included as eligible for this tax credit.
Student Tuition Organizations (STO’s): The program cap will be raised this year by $2 million, from $13 million to $15 million. This gives a tax credit to those who donate money to STO’s, which is used to help pay for tuition for financially needy students to attend private K-12 schools.
Free Speech Training in Schools: We are requiring training for students and staff in both K-12 schools and at our Regent universities on respect for each other’s free speech rights and that disciplinary processes be used when violations occur.
Prohibition on Use of “Critical Race Theory”: This bill prohibits “critical race theory”-infused training and curriculum for students and staff at the Regents universities and K-12 schools and also for employees of state and local governments. Traditional training that teaches respect for all, no matter their race or sex, remains encouraged. Schools and governments will still be able to use training that teaches respect for everyone’s 1st Amendment rights of free speech and intellectual expression as has been traditionally understood and done.
Charter School Expansion: Another school choice option for parents, the charter school program was expanded so that charter schools can be established either by the school board or by a private group. Oversight would be provided by the Dept. of Education.
What we still have left to do: We need more control put back in the hands of parents and local schools and away from state and the federal government. Common Core and science and social studies standards still need to be addressed. The more options we can offer parents the better student needs will be met and the better education for our students will be. Support is as strong for school choice as I’ve ever seen in the legislature, especially regarding the governor’s proposed educational grant program for families in struggling schools, but more needs to be done.
Part 2 of the 2021 legislative accomplishments will be in next week’s newsletter.