Last week the Senate passed its version of education reform. The Senate version had some similarities to the House bill but was considerably different. We have tried to reach a compromise. The House is offering an amendment to the Senate bill to try to reach this compromise.
The House amendment makes changes and additions regarding competency-based learning, core curriculum changes, teacher and administrator performance, innovation acceleration fund, online learning, class sharing agreements, assessments, national board certification, educator employment and professional development and third grade literacy.
The amendment also establishes several task forces to study education reform ideas such as teacher evaluations, educator career ladders and compensation, online learning and instructional time and school year, competency-based education and the core curriculum.
The board will have nine members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The board’s responsibilities will include receiving and hearing complaints about access to public records. The board will also have the authority to issue subpoenas and issue civil penalties for open records violations.
The board can have no more than 3 members from the media and no more than 3 members that represent cities, counties, or other political subdivisions. The board will hire an executive director that is must be an attorney.
Senate File 430 originated in the Senate during 2011, and is now back to the Senate for further consideration.
Senate File 466 attempts to provide protection for homeowners from unscrupulous contractors who chase major storms from state to state and prey on homeowners who have suffered damage to their roof or other exterior parts of their home. The contractors try to force homeowners into signing a contract to let them do the work immediately.
Too often, this work can be poorly done, and if the insurer refuses to cover the repairs, homeowners are stuck in these contracts with no way to pay. This bill provides homeowners with the right to cancel a contract if their insurance will not cover the repairs. It also requires the contractors to provide homeowners with information about cancelling the contract.
The bill also prohibits a residential contractor from holding itself out as an insurance adjustor and from promising to pay the home owners deductible. A residential contractor would have to provide notice at the signing of the contract the makes clear the contract is binding regardless if the insurance company ultimately agrees to pay for the repairs.
The bill is currently eligible for debate in the House, and I am hopeful that we will be able to pass this bill before the end of session.
Most Iowans have seen the movie “Field of Dreams,” set on a picturesque farm near Dyersville, Iowa. This farm and adjoining baseball field were recently sold to a group of investors with a vision to develop the Field of Dreams site into a large baseball/softball complex, to draw in visitors from around the Midwest.
Part of the new owners’ plan is to secure tax advantages from the State of Iowa to help finance the construction of the new facility. The House recently passed House File 2453, which creates a sales tax increment fund for the Field of Dreams site. It gives the developers of the project a tax rebate worth up to $16.5 million.
I voted ‘no’ on the Field of Dreams project, because it provided preferential state tax treatment for a local project. While I hope that the project becomes a commercial success, I believe this plan uses the Iowa Tax Code to pick winners and losers. Special tax advantages for one individual or entity results in unfair treatment for the rest of us.
I would prefer that the state go the opposite direction, and provide broad-based tax reform to level the playing field for all taxpayers.
Also before the legislature is a proposal to provide state tax dollars for the reconstruction of Lake Delhi. Lake Delhi is a private lake on the Maquoketa River, which in July of 2010 was significantly damaged after flood waters washed out the dam holding in the waters of the lake area.
The House has already voted to remove the funding from this year’s budget, but those dollars have been added back in the Senate.
Not only do I have reservations about the use of public dollars for the reconstruction of a private recreational area, there are serious concerns about the environmental impact of the dam on the Maquoketa River watershed. Experts from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as well as various environmental groups have argued that an impoundment dam at Lake Delhi would create problems in the river that will likely give rise to the need for even more ongoing state funding.
The problem with a dam of this type is slowing the river’s natural flow, causing sediment to settle, which damages the river for fish and wildlife habitats. The resulting silt buildup would require the state to continually pay for dredging.
We need to be very careful when considering the diversion of state resources to the local, privately-owned facilities. Our limited state funds should be used on projects and programs which benefit people across the entire state.
As many students and parents have come to realize, tuition at our Regents universities is growing at a rapid pace. Choosing to attend college has become a more burdensome and difficult choice in the recent past. In 2010 the average student graduating from one of Iowa’s Regent Universities had $27, 532 of student loan debt.
Recently many of us in the House have asked the Board of Regents for more information about a little-known policy that has a big impact on tuition. Included in student tuition is a “set-aside” amount, meaning that not all of the tuition paid by a student goes toward his or her education. This “set-aside” amount is redirected to scholarships and financial aid for other lower income students.
For undergraduate students, the current effect of the policy is that $1,864 of the $7,765 tuition bill at the University of Iowa is used to offset scholarships of other students. At ISU, $1,392 of the $7,486 tuition bill goes to other students; and at UNI, $980 of the $6,408 tuition bill is applied to other students’ scholarships rather than direct costs of the paying student.
The Board of Regents has agreed with us that these amounts should be disclosed on each tuition bill. People have a right to know how their tuition dollars are being spent.