By Rep. Dean Fisher

Homeschool day at the capitol brought many homeschooling families to the Capitol to learn more about their government. I had the pleasure of meeting with several families from Tama and Marshall counties in the House chamber.
I also received a visit from a group of eight Foreign Exchange students and their coordinator, Sharon Scherrer of Traer. These students are attending schools throughout Black Hawk and Tama counties, and come to us from Kosovo, Morocco, Bahrain, Kenya, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Armenia.
During this session the House Republicans have focused strongly on improving the viability of our public schools, not by simply throwing more money at them, but by making shifts in policy that will help our schools operate more efficiently.
One of our first orders of business was to pass a $40 million increase for our public schools, and we got that done in the first 30 days. We also reformed the timeline for when funding is set. Prior law required school funding to be set 18 months in advance of the school year, whereas the new law requires the funding to be set the first 30 days of the session, less than six months in advance. It has become clear that revenue estimates are too volatile to set budgets 18 months in advance. This reform will give our schools the certainty they need in budgeting and the legislature more confidence that it fits within the budget.
Two bills have been passed that will give schools more financial flexibility. House Republicans recognize that no two schools are alike, which is why we passed House Files 564 and 565 to allow greater leeway in how local school boards and administrators use funds that are restricted for specific uses by the state. The use of these funds have now been expanded, and if they are unused they can be transferred to a new Flexibility Fund. Those funds are subject to approval by the school board before they can be diverted for other uses. House Republicans worked closely with the school boards and superintendents to craft these changes.
We also passed a Home Rule bill that will provide school districts with greater opportunity to innovate. Under current law, schools have been governed under “Dillon’s Law” which only allows them power expressly granted by the state. House File 573 will allow them the power to exercise flexibility in areas not addressed in state law, the opposite of Dillon’s Law. Home Rule is already provided for cities and counties, so this is a well proven concept in our local government.
We have several more bills still in the works that address issues with our schools. There are inequities in the per-pupil school funding formula that results in some school districts being able to spend up to $175 per student more than another school. We also have rural schools that have transportation costs that reach as high as $1,050 per pupil, while some urban schools have transportation costs of a few hundred dollars. This means the rural schools can have significantly less funds for the classroom. We hope to address these inequities as the budget allows.
House File 571, a bill I filed, was brought to the floor for debate and passed on a 99-0 vote. This bill makes 911 calls and other call recordings to an Emergency Management Agency confidential if they deal with an adult’s medical information, or if the call is concerning a juvenile, protecting this information from Freedom of Information Act requests. All other medical information for a person is currently protected under privacy laws, and the fact that 911 calls were not was an egregious gap in the law. The bill also includes a provision for keeping information about a juvenile who commits a crime confidential. It is only right that we also keep information confidential when a juvenile is injured or otherwise involved in an emergency. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
As always, please feel free to contact me at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov or 641-750-3594.