Iowa legislators debrief Iowa City school officials on K-12 education policy

Three Democratic Iowa lawmakers discussed concerns with school district officials around legislative activity under the golden dome including district budget management, child care, and K-12 funding during a forum on Friday.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa State Representative Vicki Lensing speaks during a forum on education at the Iowa City Community School District Educational Services Center on Friday, February 22, 2019. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Caleb McCullough, News Reporter

Iowa City Community School District officials held a forum with Democratic state lawmakers on Friday, speaking on developments in K-12 education.

The legislators discussed a number of bills recently passed or under consideration in the Iowa Legislature, as well as general policies that would affect school districts.

District budget management, child care, and K-12 funding were among the topics discussed at the forum, at which about a dozen people attended.

The legislators discussed a bill introduced by Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, that aims to increase transparency in how school districts spend their money.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City addressed the need for more comprehensive audits on school districts and better training of school board members.

She referenced a December 2018 incident in which a state audit found that the Waukee Community School District had mishandled at least $130,000 in taxpayer dollars.

Mascher said many districts have minimal auditing, which can lead to poor budget handling and scandals like the one in Waukee.

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“Some of these smaller districts, I think their whole thing is just to get it done,” Mascher said. “And they don’t always scrutinize things well.”

Mascher said audits would help improve district money management and help them utilize their spending more efficiently.

“Audits should be a way of improving how you manage your budgets and what you do with your dollars,” Mascher said in an interview with *The Daily Iowan* after the forum.

The legislators also brought up concerns surrounding child care and mental health. Mascher said there was a shortage of mental-health providers in Iowa schools, as well as child-care workers.

“I held seven listening posts across Johnson and Cedar County [recently,]” Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said. “Child care was the number one topic that came up.”

A bill that would eliminate the requirement for nurses and librarians in school districts was discussed at the forum. Iowa City school district officials expressed concerns about medication distribution and students being injured on school grounds in schools without nurses.

Mascher said the bill was introduced to give districts more flexibility in who they can hire, allowing districts to allocate money for more teachers, leading to smaller class sizes. However, she said doing away with nurses and librarians would not be good for students.

“Kids who are in schools  where there are librarians tend to have better achievement scores,” Mascher said in an interview. “I don’t think that’s an accident.”

In discussing K-12 funding, Mascher said the 2.3 percent increase in funding signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday was not as much as she and other Democrats had hoped for.

“We can do better,” Mascher said. “And we have the money in the budget to do that. It seems to me that investing in our kids is one of the best things we can do with our state dollars.”

Reynolds signed House File 306 and House File 307 on Tuesday, adding nearly $90 million in funding for K-12 schools.

“This new education funding helps us get our young people ready for the challenges of a 21st century economy,” Reynolds said at the signing. “I commend lawmakers for their quick action on school funding this session, which will help school districts prepare for the next school year.”

In addition to Mascher, and Wahls, Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City was also present at the forum.