The Schultz Perspective by Senator Jason Schultz
April 14, 2023
By now all of western Iowa has received the new valuations on their property for property tax purposes. Everybody is probably shocked, and I have received many phone calls with questions about the process. “How can they do this?” they ask.
The short answer is Iowa law requires county assessors to match your property value to market conditions. It is one part of the formula that ends with you paying the tax. The inflation America has experienced in the last three years comes from the massive money-printing and distribution of funds through the Covid years. When you have a massive supply of money looking for goods and services, you get higher prices. This is the very definition of inflation. Much of that money went looking for real estate, and now we have high house prices, high mortgage rates, and even 40 year mortgages available.
The high sales prices are forcing currently owned homes to skyrocket in assessed value. Assessors are not at fault for your increasing property tax bill. They are just following Iowa law and providing their portion of the formula.
The rest of the process is driven by your local elected officials such as county, city, school, community college, and public hospital office holders. Using counties as an example, supervisors collect the assorted department budget proposals and put them into a total budget. They can then decide if they want to tax the amount needed to fund the budget by dividing the budget by the taxable assessed value. Here is where the confusion starts.
If the local elected board applies the same tax levy as the previous year with this year’s higher assessments, your taxes will increase. Many times, this is the case and the elected official tells constituents, “I didn’t raise taxes, the levy is the same as last year.” But that is not true. If the supervisor wants to keep the tax collection the same, they have to lower the levy in response to the higher property assessed values, which are required by law to match market conditions. They cannot blame the assessor. The taxing authority and the responsibility to do math falls squarely on the elected official.
The simplest way to look at this as property tax notices come out soon is this: if your tax notice is one penny higher, your taxes went up, and the person to answer for it is your elected official. If it is a minor increase to adjust for higher employee costs or the increased cost of diesel fuel, you may be okay with that, but whether the increase is small or large, the person you voted (or didn’t vote) for is answerable for the increase. Don’t let them tell you they taxed the same as last year, because you paid more this year than last.
As we are in the final month of the legislative session, property tax reform is one of the large issues to be considered. The Senate bill is an aggressive answer to these problems. In the most simple terms, it consolidates multiple levies into one and limits the rate of growth of public budgets of our local governments.
At a recent forum I was taken to task for supporting this bill and its limited growth approach. A supervisor asked me when I was going to back off and let the local elected officials make local decisions. My instant and honest answer is that I will quit supporting property tax limits when all the people in the room want more services and clamor for higher property taxes. We are nowhere near that point. Even in western Iowa.
I’ve been frustrated that property tax reform is controversial in a Republican trifecta with more Republican local officials than ever. When Republicans gained the Senate, House and Governor’s office in 2017, we spent the first two years DE-appropriating the previous year’s budget. The money just wasn’t there. We were correcting a split legislature’s mistake in rough economic times. We did it, and Iowa was rewarded for our new fiscal responsibility. I don’t understand why local officials are not content to budget conservatively, take the credit for lower taxes, and just blame the Legislature for not letting locals tax more than Iowans want to pay. That seems easy for the local elected officials, and I know our shoulders are broad enough to take the little bit of heat that will ensue. And the vast majority of Iowans will reward us.
March 28, 2023
A late session surprise issue was introduced in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. One of the tasks of Senate committee chairs is to spend time outside of session finding problems and looking for solutions that are bold and innovative. With Republicans chairing Senate committees, taxpayers are protected in this system. I’ll start by introducing two tax programs involving corn producers.
The Grain Indemnity Fund was started in 1986 in response to the farm crisis that was just ending. Recent experience watching grain elevators declare bankruptcy and not be able to pay the farmers who had grain in the elevator showed there was a need for protection. Think of it as FDIC protection for farmers with grain in commercial storage. If the elevator storing corn goes broke, the farmer can be reimbursed 90% of their loss, up to $300,000. The Grain Indemnity Fund is funded by a tax on grain dealers and warehouses on a per bushel basis and is passed on to the farmer. The tax is imposed when the fund falls below $3 million and is lifted when the balance goes over $8 million. This year three elevators have failed and the projected result is the Fund will be over $2 million short to cover losses.
The Corn Checkoff is a better-known entity. It was created by legislation in 1977 to fund the efforts of the Iowa Corn Growers to find and expand markets for corn, research new uses, and educate. It is a one penny per bushel tax collected from the farmer when corn is sold. The farmer has an opportunity to apply to get the tax refunded if they choose. Depending on the corn yield in Iowa, the Checkoff collects around $21 million a year.
The controversy begins with the draw down of the Grain Indemnity Fund. It has historically not been used often, and therefore hasn’t needed to invoke the tax collection since the late 1980s. It is now in need of refilling, at least to make good on the $2 million in losses that will be owed when claims are settled. The Iowa Senate Republicans have been working to lower taxes and find ways within the system to provide services without taking more from Iowans. Our Agriculture Committee chair saw this problem and worked to find a way to solve it without raising taxes on farmers.
The plan involves using one quarter of the penny farmers are sending to the Corn Checkoff in order to refill the Grain Indemnity Fund. Once the Fund is filled, the full amount of the Checkoff penny goes back to the Corn Promotion Board. The bill under consideration also updates the floor and ceiling of the fund to $10 million and $20 million, respectively. It also raises the limit of protection to $600,000 per farmer from the current $300,000. This is to recognize the changes agriculture has experienced in the last thirty-five years.
This plan has two policy wins as I see it. First, it provides two services that support Iowa farmers from the proceeds of one tax, not two. There is no other way to look at this other than this is money that comes out of farmers’ pockets, and they deserve the most for that money government can provide. Secondly, it has been so long since the Fund has been updated or the tax triggered, that I would like to see the Corn Promotion Board monitor the Grain Indemnity Fund and provide more input in the monitoring of the financial condition of elevators. We shouldn’t be caught by surprise again with the multiple bankruptcy situation that caused the current deficit in the Fund. This bill will give Iowa Corn Growers™, the recipient of the checkoff tax, the incentive to further represent the Iowa corn growers (producers), who pay the tax with every bushel they sell.
The fundamental principle of Iowa Senate Republicans is that taxpayers are the reason any system exists, including the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. We will always work to provide more services for your dollar, and we will find a way so that your taxes are not raised. This is the issue we face if we do nothing about the Grain Indemnity Fund.
March 24, 2023
In 1987, state law was changed to require gender balance for state-level appointees to boards and commissions. In 2009, the Democrat-controlled House, Senate, and Governor required county and municipal level appointees to meet the same standard. The 2009 law delayed the balance standard in order to give counties and cities a chance to find women who would be willing to serve on these boards. This delay proved to be a recognition of the difficulties to come.
It should go without saying that licensing and regulating boards should be comprised of the most qualified people in each field who are willing to serve. Almost all of us agree on that idea, but that would be the end of my newsletter, so let’s dive in.
This requirement has been difficult for local officials who want to find the most qualified person for the available position. As women fill more and more professional positions, they are becoming the majority of professionals in some occupations. Imagine the irony of a law from 1987 preventing a woman from serving on an important board due to the fact that she is a woman – and the board already has the maximum allowable number of women! That is the subject of a lawsuit involving a woman from western Iowa and the State of Iowa. To add to the story, the State of Iowa – governed by Kim Reynolds – will see the law keeping a woman off the Commission defended by Attorney General Brenna Bird. This is the insanity brought to us by militant activists who had no vision for the future.
I filed this bill this year in my name alone so any politically correct outrage was aimed at only myself. I somewhat enjoy the moral outrage of short-sighted liberals who try to use the power of government to impose their failed worldview. But if the bill became a political landmine, I didn’t want to implicate my colleagues or the governor’s office. Immediately upon filing the bill and making it public, I have received a lot of positive feedback from those who must find the most qualified person for a board commission. The opposition to the bill has centered upon left-wing social engineering advocates who seek mandates to enforce their will and some who can’t seem to get on a board or commission without leveraging this law.
Most importantly, I’ve enjoyed hearing from the governor’s office, who bears the brunt of this artificial mandate. They have trouble filling the hundreds of positions that rotate open each year with people who meet all the required mandates such as proper licenses, geography, political registration, experience, and gender. This bill is a welcome opportunity.
I’ll continue working to move this bill in the future in order to add flexibility to appointments and to remove artificial restraints based on left-wing political agendas on our volunteer occupational boards.
I do not believe it is ever a good idea to use government for social engineering purposes. It is always good to have the most qualified candidate be chosen to serve in any capacity that is open. And sometimes, the reason you are not asked to fill a public position has nothing to do with gender
March 17, 2023
Every year the legislature passes laws that impact the way the Governor’s Office and the Executive Branch administer the Iowa Code and manage state government. Each year the Executive Branch makes changes to its own departments and programs as laws are passed, new challenges arise, and governors change from time to time. This leads to a state government structure that reflects multiple governors and legislatures with different priorities and missions. This is where we found ourselves in 2023.
It has been almost 40 years since we last reorganized our executive branch. Our governor Kim Reynolds identified this problem and put together a plan to update our state government. She currently meets with 37 cabinet-level directors who report directly to her. This is more than any other state and costs more tax dollars than it should. It costs about $8,200 per Iowan to provide services here. Neighboring states are doing better in almost every case.
Nebraska has 28 cabinet level departments and costs $6,600 per citizen. Missouri has 16 cabinet level directors and costs only $4,400 per resident. Even Illinois has only 12 main departments and costs $6,100 per capita, proving that properly aligning state departments for efficiency cannot make up for bad policy and spending. But after six years of setting Iowa up for success, this alignment of moving minor departments and agencies underneath similar larger departments will give us a unity of effort and efficiencies that lower costs.
Senate File 514 was passed out of the Senate last week. I had the honor of floor managing this bill and am very happy with the governor’s proposal. In addition to streamlining the governor’s cabinet from 37 to 16 directors, the plan identifies 513 currently budgeted but vacant employee positions to eliminate. Estimated savings after four years add up to over $214 million.
This alignment spreads across all state government departments. One example is the current Department of Commerce. It is made up of five divisions: Banking/Professional Licensing, Credit Union, Alcoholic Beverages, Insurance, and Utilities. They were put together years ago, but operate separately with their own division heads. The Governor’s plan creates the new Department of Insurance and Financial Services made up of the old Insurance, Banking, and Credit Union divisions. Alcoholic Beverages will move to the Dept. of Revenue, as they are more aligned with similar revenue receiving and can use similar software and personnel. Utilities are housed under the Iowa Utilities Board, which operates independently and is listed among the various boards and commissions, albeit a very important one.
In other actions, accumulated workforce programs will be completely housed in Iowa Workforce Development. These will come from other departments such as the Dept of Ed or the Economic Development Authority where they started, but better fit the mission of IWD.
Three current education departments at the cabinet level will move under the Department of Education. The Board of Education Examiners, College Student Aid Commission, and the STEM Council will still do the same work, but under the Dept of Ed. This brings all education related entities under one director, providing unity of purpose and a shared agenda and mission.
It is important to point out that despite the savings and eliminating empty budgeted positions, no one will be laid off, and services will not be cut. The transition will require experienced personnel, and any reduction in current employees will come due to retirement or the normal of employees moving in and out of state employment. And while services should remain the same from the perspective of Iowans, the intent is that accessing services will be easier and more intuitive.
A bill this large will almost certainly see future bills making minor changes that can only be found after implementation and working through the transition. I will be active in finding and correcting those problems. Please let me know of local concerns that should be addressed as the newly aligned departments settle in.
I am grateful to be in a position to work on a generational update to make state government more efficient, more responsive, and more intuitive to Iowa citizens as they access services. Thank you for this opportunity to serve as your State Senator.
February 17, 2023
After six years, the critical issue of tort reform has finally been put to rest. Also referred to as medical malpractice liability reform, this issue has grown in importance to our local health care system and physicians. HF 161 passed the House and Senate last week and was signed by the Governor on February 16.
I’ve written recently about the introduced bill. The final bill had changes that made the bill better as compromises were reached. As a reminder, liability awards contain three categories. First are the economic damages, which can be traced and predicted. These awards are unlimited and fit the actual and predicted financial loss of the patient or family.
Punitive losses also remain unlimited. Trial lawyers complain that it is very difficult to prove intent to harm or gross negligence and that punitive awards are very rare. It should be a high bar to prove that medical professionals cared so little about a patient or that they meant to harm someone. These are very serious charges. But I suspect there are so few awards because Iowa’s medical professionals do not harm anyone on purpose and care deeply for the level of care they provide. They care mostly about the patient, but their name and reputation are on the line with each decision. I can’t believe there are many credible claims for punitive damages.
The final bill did address this subject, however. Through discussion and negotiations it was learned that when punitive damages are granted, as much as 70% of the award goes to the state, not the patient or family. This had never been part of the discussion before. This is part of the reason lawyers try to move their punitive damage complaints to the emotional realm of noneconomic damages. They can’t collect a third or more of the state’s share of the punitive amount. HF 161 makes the punitive award go fully to the patient. This is how it should be. The patient or family still must pay their attorney, but that isn’t the point of the bill.
HF 161 places a cap on the noneconomic damages such as emotional pain, loss of consortium, and other, non-quantifiable losses. The caps ended up being $2 million against a hospital, or $1 million against other health care providers. Hospitals themselves offered this concession, which shows again how badly they needed relief from uncapped emotional awards from juries who have given tens of millions of dollars in some instances. This category is why insurance is becoming not only expensive enough to force closure of some of our rural health providers, but sometimes is simply unattainable for our most sensitive services such as birth centers.
One new provision is the formation of a task force that will quantify the injuries suffered through medical mistakes and report if there was any state policy that would have prevented such losses. I’m interested in hearing the results and am glad it was included.
The environment has now changed for western Iowa in health care. When we began session there was no reason a medical professional would come here from another state due to our uncapped medical liability environment. With this change I expect we will see the recruitment and retaining of health care professionals become easier as we now are similar to Nebraska and South Dakota. They still have lower caps, but Iowa is now in the ballpark. Council Bluffs and Sioux City will be the first beneficiaries of the new policy. It won’t take long and our local hospitals in Ida Grove, Denison, Harlan, Carroll, and Audubon to see the effects of HF 161.
It was difficult and was a six-year project, but of all the challenges faced by health care, I’m glad to report that uncapped noneconomic damages will no longer scare away new doctors or close emergency rooms or birthing centers. Our residency training programs will also benefit, which helps keep Iowa trained doctors working in Iowa.
The hustle of session continues as we are within a couple of weeks of the first funnel deadline. There are plenty of issues to report in the coming weeks. Please check back for updates soon. I appreciate having the chance to report back home to western Iowa.
February 9, 2023
We’ve all heard of malpractice cases in which health care providers have made mistakes and caused harm and suffering. Sometimes the damage can last a lifetime. When a lawsuit is filed for damages, the monetary award comes from three different categories:
Economic damages are those damages that are actually quantifiable: Wages that were lost because of the injury, loss of future earning capacity, medical bills, etc. A plaintiff who wants economic damages must come forward with actual evidence to support these awards. These damages are not subjective.
Noneconomic damages are an amorphous category of damages that is left to the subjective and often arbitrary feelings of the eight jurors who happen to be selected for the trial. These damages, which include categories such as “pain and suffering,” are so subjective and arbitrary that, for the very same injury, one jury might award a plaintiff $50,000 in non-economic damages and another jury might award $1 million. The variation depends on the emotions of the jurors and is often influenced by the dramatic arguments of trial lawyers.
Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish egregious and reckless conduct. Specifically, under Iowa code, the jury can award punitive damages if the defendant’s actions “constituted willful and wanton disregard for the rights or safety of” the plaintiff.” Iowa Code § 668A.1.
For years health care providers such as hospitals, physicians, or any health care provider have pointed out that Iowa’s medical liability laws are their greatest concern. It causes them higher than average insurance premiums, challenges in recruiting physicians, and pushes them to settle cases that are easily defensible, but could spin wildly out of control due to the uncapped category involving emotion.
The Legislature has wrestled with this issue for six years and we are trying again. The bill we passed places a $1,000,000 cap on the noneconomic damages for doctors and $2,000,000 for hospitals. The bill leaves economic and punitive damages uncapped. There is an inflation escalator so the cap moves up over time and the value of the cap doesn’t fall in real terms. Costs to be considered under economic damages are also updated by including the cost of dependent childcare are now to be included. Our society is changing, and this is a good addition.
This bill is happening due to the growing trend of extreme awards being granted by juries in the noneconomic damages category. There is a growing trend by trial lawyers making huge opening demands in noneconomic damage and juries are following. Iowa’s current laws allow any number and studies show the higher the initial demand, the higher a victorious award will be.
Doctors and hospitals who have done nothing wrong are feeling the effects, and this then impacts Iowans across the state. Iowa hospitals are seeing required medical malpractice insurance premiums grow faster than in states with noneconomic damages caps. OB/GYNs, birthing, emergency rooms, and residency training programs are especially hard hit. These services become too expensive to offer, and we see our rural delivery rooms closing as young mothers and their families have to travel farther to get care. Even more concerning is the new pattern of insurance companies not even offering insurance policies for certain specialties. Local hospitals tell me they can neither afford or access liability insurance over certain levels around $20,000,000. If they loses a judgement for much over that, they may have to declare bankruptcy.
Hospitals are also seeing recruitment suffer as physicians and specialists avoid Iowa and practice in surrounding states. One current senator tells of his medical emergency where he was examined in Council Bluffs but was transferred to Omaha to the same medical system. The specialist couldn’t come to Iowa due to the higher cost of working on this side of the river. Western Iowa hospitals have a hard time recruiting doctors when they can work in Nebraska or South Dakota instead and have us drive to them.
Surrounding state have already addressed this issue and that creates our disadvantage.
- North Dakota – $500,000
- South Dakota – $500,000
- Nebraska – $2.25M total damage cap
- Missouri – $450,098 Non-Catastrophic/ $787,671 Catastrophic
- Illinois – $500,000 (Overturned by State Supreme Court)
- Wisconsin – $750,000
Further, 28 states in the country have similar caps on noneconomic damages or on total damage awards. This problem isn’t new, and it is nationwide. We need to join the states who have addressed unlimited awards for emotional damages.
Opponents, led by trial lawyers who receive a large fraction of awards, argue against caps. They claim the patient has a constitutional right to a jury giving as much award money as they choose. I love our US and Iowa Constitution, but that doesn’t seem correct. Iowa law limits criminal charges and sentences when a defendant is found guilty. Juries receive instruction from the judge about their duties under the law before they go into deliberation.
It is a sign of the times that not having a cap on noneconomic damages worked for decades but now must be capped. Certainly, our culture has become more receptive to emotional arguments and will continue to be even more so. Trial lawyers have perfected their strategies and study the best places to practice law and market their services. One hugely successful trial lawyer places a “trophy board’ of huge awards won on the front page of his website.
Medical patients who suffer loss have every right to seek damages. It is one of the mechanisms that push providers to be more careful and to make patient safety a priority above all others. But accidents happen, and sometimes a patient’s body doesn’t respond as predicted. You should be fully restored economically, including future expenses. If a provider causes damage and covers up the reason or lies, they should be punished economically and there should be no cap.
Western Iowa is seeing fewer medical services, and having to travel farther to access what most take for granted. I’m working to remove this challenge, hoping it helps keep our delivery rooms and emergency services open for business.
February 3, 2023
An issue popped up this week in the Iowa Legislature that will impact every property taxpayer and property taxing authority. A mistake in calculating the rollback on multifamily residential properties led to a 1.8% increase on valuations on residential property. This could lead to a statewide property tax increase of $120 million over what should be collected. There is a bill that passed the Senate this week to correct this rollback error. Seems like an easy answer, right?
The controversy lies in the calendar and how far local taxing authorities are in building and certifying their budgets. Local governments such as cities and counties started working on their budgets months ago as property valuation data was updated. I do not believe they knew about this calculation error and were working in good faith. But there was more of your money available on the spreadsheets than there should be, and local officials plugged the higher number into their budgets.
Now that the error has come to light, the Legislature is moving a bill to restore the correct rollback in the calculations of your property taxes in order to avoid a direct property tax increase on you. This is being met with strong opposition from many property tax collectors. The interesting twist on the debate is that no one is disputing that an error was made. In the Senate subcommittee, testimony against the bill didn’t argue against the new, lower rollback number. All the opponents asked is that the correction be made next year, as not to impact this year’s budgeting process.
Allowing the correction to happen next year would be a $126 million property tax increase statewide on you. Your Republican governor, Senate, and House have been consistent in lowering taxes, and never have we increased taxation on you. Further, if we accept the error, this tax increase will become permanent as it is built into budgets and becomes the base for the following year. That would be unacceptable.
In order to help minimize stress at the county and city level, the final bill will give one year of flexibility to the process of county auditors revising rollback numbers. The bill also extends to April 15 the deadline to finish their budgets. This means local officials may have to cut expenditures to which they have already agreed. This is part of the job, and I wish it happened more often. When the Republican trifecta was created in 2017, we had to de-appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars in two consecutive years. This is because the Senate Democrats had forced budgets that were larger than revenue estimates could sustain. Actions and determination such as this is how we eventually became one of the best managed states in the country.
Regardless, this will be difficult for local officials, and it is not their fault it happened. I would encourage citizens to not blame local officials for the error and actually encourage the boards and councils to look for even more areas that could be cut or programs that could be ended once they have served their purpose. This event could lead to a positive outcome beyond being fair to the taxpayer.
I respect the difficulty counties, cities, and other property tax systems are about to have. But that system serves Iowans, and those Iowans in great number have told us they are already suffering under the weight of property taxes. When we address situations such as this error, the winner should always be the taxpayer.
The state of education in Iowa changed forever just after midnight on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 when the Iowa Senate passed House File 68 and sent it to the governor for her signature. From now on, $3.4 billion in education spending will be aimed at the student, and no longer on funding a system. I fully support this change in perspective. Here is how I see the new bill helping Senate District 6.
The first reason to support the Students First Act is for the deregulation and additional funding for our public schools. As we make our funding of education more consistent between accredited private and accredited public schools, our public schools will receive categorical funding for students who live in the district, but who have attended private schools all their life.
Our Senate district in west-central Iowa would seem to have very little private school presence other than well-known Carroll Kuemper in Carroll. But we also have Zion Lutheran and St. Rose schools in Denison and Shelby County Catholic in Harlan serving children from kindergarten up to junior high. We even have Danbury Catholic School which is just outside the district but picks up a few students out of Ida County.
Estimates of private school attendance and the estimated payment of $1200 per student who doesn’t attend, it looks like the following schools will win. Carroll Public will see $1.2 million in categorical funding for students who go to Kuemper. Denison-Schleswig will enjoy almost $200,000. Harlan will get an annual $91,000. Along with this additional funding, all of our schools will see some deregulation. I will continue to work to limit the amount of redundant reporting and data collecting. I’m open to any suggestions from public schools about other regulations that need to go.
The second reason I voted for this bill is that I fundamentally believe that the parent is responsible for the education of their child both spiritually and academically. Where the child is educated and the values included in that education belong to the parent. Nobody really seemed to disagree with this belief. The division in the state comes from who pays for that education. Historically, public tax dollars have funded only public schools. Over the years there have been small changes that have given private schools access to tax dollars through Area Education Agency services or transportation services. Tax dollars for private schools are not new. But the important and controversial point here is that historically, public schools have represented the values and morals of the parents and communities they serve. Several controversies in schools across Iowa have indicated some school officials are trying to instill values different than the communities they serve, and parents have complained and looked for relief.
For the past few years, it has become clear there is a disruptive influence to be found in some public schools. Education seems to have been infiltrated by a tiny number of administrators, school board members, and educators who want to instill an agenda instead of an education. We see this in the controversy over material in public schools that has made headlines across the state. Drag queens in Ankeny and Black Lives Matter-required material in classes are recent events. Administrators in the Des Moines metro were videoed explaining they just use different names in order to illegally use divisive material, such as Critical Race Theory, just last spring. There is also a pattern of obscene material being found in libraries across the state, including western Iowa. In schools who appropriately screen material, I’ve heard a teacher say she would buy and stock their own classroom libraries with ideological material. The vast majority of Iowans and teachers are opposed to this influence, but it is becoming clear that a far-left influence has been growing and is influencing our children.
The Legislature has made many attempts to address these issues for constituents. But it is like a game of Whack-A-Mole. The issues just keep popping up. It seems the best way is for us to let parents find and choose a school themselves. The state requires that a family’s children attend school. It seems a step too far to tell them which school they have to attend in order to have their taxes educate their child.
I’ve heard objections this last weekend that are based on inaccurate opposition talking points. People tell me they don’t want our small schools to receive less funding. The truth is that public schools will receive the same amount per student they always have, plus the annual increase in state aid. Schools already deal each year with numbers of students moving in or out of the district. Graduating classes and incoming kindergarten class numbers change each year. The application process for the new scholarships give administrators time to plan for changes.
A troubling pattern I am hearing is the charge that public schools will lose too many of their students and budgets will be impacted. I thought we all had a better opinion of our public schools in western Iowa. I know I do. My whole family is a product of public schools, and I am proud of my children’s accomplishments. I won’t believe there will be a mass exodus to private schools until I see it. The choice now belongs to the parents, as it should be. But unless a family has a specific problem that can’t or won’t be addressed at the public school, why would they leave?
A second concern is that public schools have to educate any child who arrives, and private schools do not. Public schools have many resources and specialists to deal with students with special challenges. They also receive an average of $17,031 per student. The state student aid for this year will be about $7,500. This is the amount we are attaching to the student. The public system will still be funded at 2.25 times the amount of non-public schools. I believe we can achieve both goals. Students with needs can be served and students who need a different academic setting get a chance to find one.
Education in Iowa has entered a new chapter, and I believe it will lead to a much more vibrant environment. Eight other states have made this decision before us. Test scores are up in both private and public schools. Increased student achievement is the goal of education reforms. With school choice’s record of accomplishing that goal in other states, it’s a worthy policy to pursue.
January 23, 2023
School choice will be the biggest issue of the session and the controversy has started. Governor Reynolds’s Students First Act is the result of four years of research and smaller efforts to focus school choice on small segments of Iowa’s student population. Each effort came up short in votes in the House, but research continued to grow across the country, showing that allowing parents and students to choose the education best for them provided better outcomes for students at both public and private schools.
The basics of the bill are this: the State of Iowa provides about $7,600 out of an average of $17,031 spent by public schools per student. The Students First Act would have a three year phase-in to make the state portion of per student spending available to parents who apply for an Educational Scholarship Account (ESA). This account would be held by the state treasurer in the student’s name and under the control of the Iowa Dept. of Education. This money would not be taken from any public school, but is a new expense.
The bill also reduces school spending regulations that allow public schools to use current funds more flexibly, such as pay increases for successful teachers or to offer higher salaries for specialized positions to attract talent. Also, when we bring these new students into the current school funding formula, our local schools will enjoy an additional $1,200 per child for those who live in the district but didn’t attend public school.
Those are the basics. Let’s look at the controversy.
One of the earliest arguments was that public dollars should not be allowed to go to private organizations. It turns out that education is almost the only public entity where this is the case. Medicaid and Medicare go to non-government providers daily. Welfare benefits go to private sector grocery stores, schools themselves pay their electric, propane, and diesel fuel bills to private sector businesses. It is important we recognize that Iowa taxpayers are funding a student’s education, not a public system that exists apart from its mission of education Iowa children.
One disappointing misstatement that has gone out by email from a large public sector union is that the teachers, administrators, and private schools themselves don’t meet standards and are unqualified to receive your dollars to teach Iowa children. This claim is completely false. ESAs are only available to parents who apply and choose accredited nonpublic schools. The accreditation may be from our own Iowa Dept. of Ed or one of the independent accrediting agencies approved by the Dept. of Ed. I have heard from a few retired public school teachers who have children who followed in their footsteps but who chose to teach in a private, accredited school. Their anger and disappointment in seeing the union emails discredit their children who hold the same degrees and certifications is hard to hear. Your tax dollars will go only to schools who meet and maybe exceed the public school standards.
Many have mentioned that public schools have to accept every child, while private schools do not. This is true, as that is the very definition of public. It is available to all. That is why they will continue to receive over seventeen thousand dollars per student while private school parents will have access to $7,600. Private schools already have access to the public Area Education Agencies for specialized support of students with special needs, and will be expected to take applicants who will need extra attention.
Accusations have arisen that this is just a way for taxpayers to fund the rich families’ education. That claim is the opposite of the Students First Act. This bill allows those without the means to pay for private school to access a different educational environment. Not every child happens to thrive in the school district they happen to live. It is wrong to dismiss the pain and anguish of parents who see their child fall behind their peers, or be bullied, only to be told, “You can go anywhere else you want. Just pay for it yourself!” Iowa’s Constitution requires the legislature to pay for the education of Iowa children. The parent should be the one who decides where that happens.
In any political debate, language is important. This is why you hear the opponents refer to the scholarships as vouchers. Vouchers are not permitted under the Iowa Constitution and would be a reason to overturn this bill. It is a legal strategy pushed by public union bosses to protect their monopoly over tax dollars and your children’s minds. Education Scholarship Accounts are payments to parents to be used for their child’s education, and the parent chooses which school and with which values the child will be taught.
It is unfortunate, but the argument over the Students First Act has become about protecting current monopolies and vilifying alternative ideas and methods. In America, freedom is always the correct answer. I am proud to support the results of four years of research and development of parental choice. It will be proven to be the best way forward for Iowa’s future.
January 10, 2023
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. The 2023 session of the Iowa Legislature is underway. I would like to thank all of you in Senate District 6 for giving me the opportunity to be your voice in the Iowa Senate.
The Iowa Constitution sets the opening day as the second Monday in January. This year January 9 found us starting our day by officially swearing in new officeholders. Senator Amy Sinclair was sworn in as President of the Senate, and Senator Jack Whitver returns as Senate Majority Leader. This year the Senate majority will be 34 Republican senators, and the minority party will be the 16 remaining Democrat senators.
Immediate business for the first week will be to form committees and introduce members of those committees. Bills filed before session will be ready for assignment to committee when we get there, so you will be hearing of bills being made public almost immediately. I will be chairing the State Government committee. After being named chair in November, I have held many meetings in Des Moines with department directors, staff, and lobbyists to exchange policy thoughts and learn of legislative agendas from those with interests before the committee. Everything is considered through a lens of shrinking the cost and size of government, making government services more efficient and “customer friendly,” and expanding freedom. This is the formula Senate Republicans have used for the last six years and it is working well.
I have also been appointed to the Judiciary, Workforce, Ways and Means, and Commerce committees. I am looking forward to these topics, as they impact rural Iowa in numerous ways.
We already have a few big topics waiting for session to begin. The governor is leading on the issue of giving parents more choice in where to educate their children. We have talked about it for a few years, but I think this is the year we get it done. Property tax reform is also being discussed. The Legislature hears from many constituents each year on this topic. We have tried to address this a couple of times in my career, but with varying results. I like what I am hearing so far. Our rural hospitals are being crushed by rising insurance premiums due to unlimited-amount judgements if they lose a lawsuit. I hope we apply damage caps to protect them.
Our federal level of government has completely detached themselves from the US Constitution and is ruling like a third world banana republic. Short of the Angel of Death causing the entire entity to not wake up one morning, your Iowa Legislature will be looking for ways to protect Iowans from federal agency overreach.
I will be reporting back to you on each of these subjects and more as the weeks of work bring each issue to the forefront. This session is scheduled for 110 days, which would bring us to April 28. My hope is that we can finish our work sooner than that by working together with our partners in the Iowa House. Throughout the session I will be attending legislative forums on Saturday mornings.
I can be reached by email at Jason.email@example.com, or the switchboard at 515-281-3371.