Once again, school funding took top priority with the legislature this year, as K-12 funding bills were the first to pass through the House. The House passed two bills this past week that provide $90 million new dollars to schools for the upcoming school year.
The first bill passed was HF 306, which set Supplemental State Aid (SSA) at 2.06 percent. This translates to an increase per student from $6,736 to $6,880. As a rough estimate, an average class of around 25 students will see an additional $3,600 next year.
The bill had the support from the Iowa Association of School Boards, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network of Iowa and no opposition from interest groups.
The second bill, HF 307, provides funding to help districts fix the inequities that exist for transportation, especially for rural districts. Currently school districts pay for the cost of transporting students to school out of their general fund, meaning higher transportation costs leaves less money for the classroom. The funding goes to districts with the highest costs, with the goal to eventually bring those districts down to the statewide average of $328 per student.
The total increase for K-12 education continues a string of funding increases each year since 2011 that have been sustainable. The eight years prior to that included some larger increases, but also included at least four times that funding was retroactively cut midyear. I know from my conversations with school leaders that they appreciate getting their SSA number before they begin building their budgets, and knowing that they can count on the funding being there when they need it.
Snow Days Hitting Schools Hard – What are the Options?
After a mild beginning to the winter season, January hit the state hard with successive snow storms that blanketed the state in snow and cold. And with it came schools closings statewide.
The Department of Education doesn’t keep track of days called off school for weather, so hard numbers don’t exist. But anecdotally you’ll hear anywhere from two days to over a dozen days called off so far this season. And that many days will present a challenge to just about every school calendar out there.
School calendars are set locally by the school board, with a few parameters from the state. Specifically, those parameters are starting after Aug. 23 and counting the school year in either hours (1080) or days (180).
The Department of Education did put out a refresher on what options schools have now that they’re faced with longer school years because of weather-related closures.
Some of the more common ones are:
• Can the governor pardon or the department waive snow days? No, neither the governor nor the department have that authority. The number of days or hours is set in state law and can’t be side-stepped.
• Can schools use “e-learning,” wherein a student accesses lessons or other school work from home through digital means? No, this wouldn’t count as instruction. Instruction must take place under the guidance and instruction of staff at school. E-learning can also present equity of access concerns for students without proper equipment or connections, those with disabilities or younger students who can’t self-guide.
How can districts make up those days without going to far into the beginning of summer? There are a few options, each depending on how the district’s calendar is currently set up and other local factors:
• They can add time to end of the remaining school days to make up any hours missed if they are using an hours-based calendar
• They can add weekend days, regardless of calendar type
• They can shorten or eliminate previously planned breaks, regardless of calendar type
Keeping in mind, districts must have public hearings to change calendar, just as they do to set the calendar before the year.
Snow and cold in Iowa are not new concepts, and many districts plan their calendars accordingly. They often build in extra days or hours to ensure that should closures occur, they can still meet the minimum requirements in law. For those that are extended, there are other options that can be taken to ensure all students are given equal opportunity for obtaining a good education in our schools.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. Home phone: 515-382-2352. E-mail: Dave.Deyoe@legis.iowa.gov