Education, taxes and healthcare reform were the big topics at South Square’s legislative forum Saturday, as State Sen. Waylon Brown and State Rep. Jane Bloomingdale fielded questions from constituents and gave updates on what they’ve been working on at the capitol.
Saturday marked the end of the third week since the legislators returned to Des Moines for the new session, and the Republican-controlled legislature has already introduced a $282 million water quality-bill and a $52 million budget cut for the current fiscal year.
The budget cuts, which were proposed by the Senate, mostly hit funding for higher education and the justice system, but wouldn’t cut appropriations for K-12 education.
According to Bloomingdale, Iowa is one of six states that has actually increased its funding for K-12 education since 2011, and Brown added that 52 percent of the budget is allocated towards education.
Even so, some members of the audience agreed public schools were hindered by regulations that don’t allow them to control where and how they spend the money they have.
“We need to get back to local control,” said Steve Groth, a St. Ansgar school board member.
Groth said some STEM requirements and restrictions on where certain monies can be spent puts limits on St. Ansgar’s ability to prepare its students for the careers they wish to pursue.
“You can’t have these cookie cutter schools,” Bloomingdale said. “Our schools are different [than other schools].”
Both Brown and Bloomingdale were in agreement that more needs to be done to allow elected school officials to use their money to make them best they can.
“What used to work isn’t always going to work going into the future,” Brown said.
Also discussed was a recent proposal in the senate that would create education savings grants, allowing students to use state money to pay for private or home schooling expenses, a move Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week is “not unreasonable.”
Bloomingdale and Brown have distanced themselves from proposals like this one, saying they’re of the opinion public dollars should go to public schooling.
“One of the great things about our country we have the option to choose,” said Brown, also noting how each family is different and it’s important not to limit options for education.
President Donald Trump signed a massive new tax bill into law last December, and the scope of new regulations will influence what legislatures will be able to do at the state level.
“We want to simplify our tax code,” Bloomingdale said. “The governor has come out with her proposals, and we’ll be looking at those in the next week.”
Brown is the chair of a task force reviewing Medicaid, and said he spent a lot of time between legislative sessions talking with groups and individuals about healthcare reform.
“[We’re trying] to figure out what’s working, what isn’t working, where do we need to make changes,” Brown said.
One issue mentioned was the inconsistency of long term support health plans and services, which Brown said was due to one of three Managed Care Organizations (MCO) in Iowa leaving recently.
“One of the biggest issues we’re dealing with right now, is that there’s no standardization whatsoever,” Brown said. “[We’re looking] to standardize the process that the MCO’s will be using.”
The forum was the first of multiple legislative forums scheduled for this session and sponsored by the Bi-Partisan Women’s Commission of Mitchell County. The next one takes place Feb. 24 to the Osage Public Library.