Greetings from Capitol Hill:
First Funnel for the Iowa Legislature:
A very busy week in the Iowa Legislature as we complete the first funnel of the 88th General Assembly.
The Iowa House works to get their non-budget bills through committees to keep them alive this session. The first funnel deadline for the 2019 legislative session is Friday. After this deadline, the bills will go to a debate on the House floor. A few bills are stalled in committee right now.
Economic Growth; February Economic Development Awards Supports $125 Million Capital Investment in Iowa.
Forest City—Winnebago Founded in Forest City, Winnebago Industries, Inc. manufactures outdoor lifestyle products under the Winnebago, Grand Design, and Chris-Craft brands. The company builds motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheel products and has recently entered the marine market with the acquisition of Chris-Craft boats. Winnebago plans to expand its current manufacturing footprint in Forest City, converting existing warehouse space to make room for a production line previously manufactured in Oregon. This $5.3 million capital investment consolidates product development, supply chain, and assembly operations for its diesel motorhome business in a single location and is expected to create 148 jobs, of which 23 are incented at a qualifying wage of $21.79 per hour.
Education; Helping the Teacher Shortage in Rural Iowa.
The legislature took steps last week to help rural districts, particularly border communities, attract and retain newly qualified teachers, a difficult task in some areas. There are definitely problems with finding qualified teachers in areas with a smaller population from which to draw, due to many factors. One in particular that was addressed, deals with the test teacher candidates have to take to finish their course of study. The most common one is called the Praxis exam, although there are others. The legislature in 2013 set a minimum bar for this test that in order to finish a teacher preparation program and enter the teaching workforce, candidates must pass with a score in the top 75 percent nationally. This isn’t always a problem for Iowa students, as around 95 percent of our teacher candidates meet this standard. But there are instances where a teacher candidate shines in all aspects of their training, receives glowing praise during their student teaching period, and despite being offered a job enthusiastically by a district, if they can’t pass the Praxis, they can’t teach. This is a barrier to entry that numerous superintendents have asked that the legislature fix. They argue that they know best who is most qualified for the job opening and they have watched the candidate complete a successful student teaching experience in the district. There were efforts last year to get rid of this 75 percent bar altogether (actually written in statute as passing above the 25 percent percentile nationally). But that would leave Iowa as the only state in the nation with no standard for teacher candidates. So the compromise made this year came in the form of two companion bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. The compromise is to allow the Department of Education to set passing scores that are more in line with what other states are doing. They are to consider not only the passing scores set in our surrounding states, but also the particular high-needs teaching areas in Iowa, and set Iowa’s scores accordingly. Additionally a one year temporary license is created to give those teacher candidates additional time to pass the test, which is sometimes only offered in limited windows that may not line up with the end of their program and the beginning of their teaching. The compromise bill received bipartisan praise as it passed through the House Education committee, with many comments thanking those who worked on it for finding a positive middle ground that will help rural and border communities find and retain quality teachers for their students. This bill is now ready for floor consideration in the chamber as House File 513.
An Effort to Lower the Cost of Teacher Licensing Fees
The House Education committee is considering taking action on a bill next week that will lower the fees for licensing for teachers and other professionals in our state’s K-12 education system. The licensing body in Iowa, the Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE), is funded entirely with fees from licensing. However, the Board is required to deposit 25 percent of the revenue it generates from fees into the state’s General Fund. This equates, in the most recent fiscal year, to about $650,000. The bill under consideration, House File 256, would eliminate this transfer. The practical effect is that the Board would lower their fees as they are allowed to only generate enough revenue for operation. The trickle down effect would likely be a reduction in fees that school professionals pay for initial and recurring licensing, possibly by up to 25 percent. While not necessarily a large sum, it is certainly a welcome move to remove this tax on teacher and administrator licensing.