Ashley’s Angle: Week Three 1/26/17

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Trusted. Proven. Leader

Thank you so much for entrusting me to represent Iowa House District 67. I am proud to represent people from Marion, Robins, Hiawatha, and Cedar Rapids.

I made my first announcement this week and it was a great joy and honor to introduce the Findley Elementary School choir. Prior to gaveling in, the choir performed two songs, including the Iowa song, for everyone in the chamber.

Findley Elementary School has participated in the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities “Turnaround Arts” initiative since 2011. It is one of eight schools selected in the nation to participate and is currently in its fifth year. The program infuses music and the arts into core classes such as math, reading, and science. Since the introduction of the program, math proficiency rates and reading scores have risen considerably. I have and will continue to underscore the importance and benefits of music and the arts in educating Iowa’s youth.

I think I’m getting the hang of things

As week three of the 87th session comes to an end, a major step was taken to move the Legislature forward. With the de-appropriations bill passing the Appropriations Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, we made progress by reaching an agreement on FY17 budget reductions. Working off of Governor Branstad’s initial proposal which held K-12 education harmless from any cuts, House Republicans worked to protect K-12 funding and soften cuts to key priorities like public safety and community colleges.

With revenue projections being very unpredictable over the last several budget years, a conservative approach to the budget is necessary. As we look forward to future budgets, House Republicans remain committed to the principles that have served Iowa well over the last six years:

  1. We will spend less than the state collects
  2. We will not use one-time funds to pay for ongoing needs
  3. We will not intentionally underfund state programs to balance the budget
  4. We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers

I feel it’s very important for us as legislators to do our part in helping with the de-appropraition. With that in mind, we have agreed to shorten the Legislative Session from 110 days to 100 days. This will help provide significant savings and shows we are willing to lead by example in absorbing these cuts.

Education
In another area that I feel very passionate about, the Iowa Department of Education released its Annual Condition of Education Report. Some of the more notable stats include:

Students

  • 483,451: The number of students enrolled in Iowa’s public schools, up from 480,772 the year before. This represents the fifth enrollment increase in as many years, following a 17-year decline in enrollment.
  • 22.1: The ACT composite score among students in the Class of 2015 who took the college-entrance exam, down from 22.2 the year before.
  • 68%: The percent of students in the Class of 2016 who took the ACT, up from 67% the year before.
  • 90.8%: The percent of students in the Class of 2015 who graduated in four years, up slightly from 90.5% the year before.

Technology

  • 76.2%: The percent of schools in the state that have a bandwidth of at least 100 MB, which is considered the minimum bandwidth requirement for digital learning.

Teachers and Finance

  • Iowa’s average teacher salary increased 2% in 2015-16 to $56,449, up from $55,356 in 2014-15.
  • Iowa’s average teacher salary climbed to 23rd in the national rankings from 25th the year before; the Midwestern ranking remained the same at sixth out of 12 states.
  • The state’s total per-pupil expense was $10,622 in the 2014-15 school year, up from $10,240 in the 2013-14 school year.

Although many of these statistics are encouraging, we should not become complacent. I will continue to work with fellow legislators, local school officials and teachers, and the public to push for more innovation and accountability in Iowa’s schools.Last Friday, I attended the Grant Wood Area Education Agency meeting with Superintendents, school board members, other education officials, and legislators from the area where we discussed many of these concerns.

The full report is available on the Iowa Department of Education’s website. I feel there is a lot of misinformation being presented about the current state of education in Iowa and I urge everyone to look at the report for themselves.

On the lighter side of things, House Resolution 3 (HR 3) passed the House by a voice vote. HR 3 recognizes the importance of the Iowa Pork Congress to Iowa’s pork industry and the importance of that industry in Iowa’s economy. HR 3 was introduced by Representatives Fry, Moore, and Bacon. I proudly voted for this resolution.

Bill of the Week
This is a new section where I will present and discuss one specific piece of legislation that has been introduced in the House or a committee I sit on. I plan to focus on legislation that I am personally involved with or I feel will have a great impact on my district.

Although there are many issues to consider, I hope you will understand that I cannot express everything in a newsletter. I encourage everyone to email, call, visit me at the Capitol, or look at my upcoming events calendar (see below) to meet and speak with me in person.

The bill of the week is…House File 103 (HF 103)

HF 103 is very special to me because it is my very first bill! Although I was in an Appropriations Committee meeting when the bill was read into the House, I am still very excited about HF 103. The bill is specific to water treatment or effluent treatment services to paper recycling mills.

Iowa is perhaps one of only two states that taxes certain paper recycling mills in this manner. HF 103 would bring Iowa in-line with the policies of many other states, make Iowa’s paper recycling mills more competitive, and help spur reinvestment in those paper mills. The bill has been referred to the House Committee of Ways and Means and I look forward to following it as it progresses through the legislative process.

Capitol Visitors
I was honored to meet and speak with some of Linn County’s finest. Assistant Fire Chief Greg Smith (left), Captain Steve O’Konek (middle), Captain Jeff Hembara (right), and Sergeant Michael Wallerstedt (sitting) discussed ways that we can continue to improve public safety for both citizens and first responders.
It was great to have to Whiting Family stop by the Capitol for a visit. I encourage all constituents to come by the Capitol to take a tour and meet with me.
Representative Rizer and I were pleased to meet with local Linn County members of the Iowa Association of School Boards.
I spoke with Troy Willard and Jason Evans from the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. We discussed upcoming Bottle Bill legislation, and some of the challenges they face in the Solid Waste Industry.