Legislative Report June 2006 - A Summary of Legislation Enacted During the Second Regular Session of the Eighty-First Iowa General Assembly
We began this session with the same priority and concern that we have had for the last couple of sessions, that being the issue of AEA funding. However the emphasis and strategy this year differed from the past. During the recent sessions we have exerted a great deal of energy on making sure that the Legislature would not add further budget reductions than those we had already experienced beginning with the 2001 session. Having been successful at avoiding further cuts we turned our emphasis this year to achieving a restoration of some of those funding cuts.
To accomplish this difficult goal we initiated a strategy and took the following actions prior to the start of the session:
- Compiled documentary evidence of the history and impact of the funding reductions and used this information to develop handouts for various presentations to follow. The handouts included; a year by year compilation of the cuts, a comparison of controlled funding now versus when the cuts began, and a projection of the funding pattern for the next five years if the funding was not restored.
- Requested, and was granted a meeting with the Governor to solicit his support in restoring funding as part of his budget request to the Legislature at the beginning of the session. This was driven by the knowledge that any hope of restoring the funds would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, if the Governor did not include them in his budget.
- Solicited support for the restoration of AEA funding from LEAs for submission to the Governor to demonstrate their concern over AEA funding shortfalls. Turned over to the Governor a list of 270 public and nonpublic schools urging restoration.
- Held meetings in individual AEAs with area legislators to share documentation with them and to obtain support, or at the very least an understanding on their part of the issue. Meetings were attended by nearly half of the members of the General Assembly. Local LEA personnel were also involved in the meetings so they could relate the impact of the AEA cuts on their services.
After the session began, and following the Governors’ decision to ask for the restoration of $10 million to the AEAs in his budget request, we continued our lobbying efforts by initiating the following steps:
- Met in the beginning of the session with legislative leadership and other influential legislators who had been unable to attend meetings prior to the session.
- AEA Administrators brought local superintendents to the capital to visit with legislators concerning the AEA funding issue.
- A breakfast reception, hosted by the AEA Administrators, was held for legislators at the Statehouse.
- Constant monitoring and reacting to individual situations that arose throughout the session.
In the end we were partially successful in restoring a portion of the funding. The continuing funding reduction was reduced to $8 million from the previous $11.8 million. The question then becomes; was our lobbying efforts successful and are we satisfied with the outcome?
The answers are not a simple yes or no. We do believe that the lobbying strategy and the efforts to implement that strategy have been beneficial not only for this issue, but also in general. More legislators are becoming aware of what we do and the importance we hold to school districts. This is evident not only in the response to the budget, but also in other less evident examples. We are experiencing more instances when legislators are considering the AEAs’ as possible solutions to some of the problems they face relating to education. This marks an increase in our credibility and visibility and it is something that we need to work on, as a system, to sustain.
In terms of the particular issue of funding and measuring our satisfaction it is important to keep in mind the following:
- The legislature very rarely restores funding that they have cut in the past because they assume, right or wrong, that the cuts have been absorbed and adjusted to by the group being cut.
- We are appreciative of the Governor’s action to ask for restoration of funding in his budget. However, we are also cognizant and understanding of the fact that when final negotiations were taking place that it would not be as high a priority to him as some of the other issues he was concerned with. Thus we realized that he would request funding for those issues first.
- Similarly, we would also not have been the highest priority for funding with legislators who were involved in the final negotiations.
- Given the position of the state budget and other legislative priorities it would have been wishful, and probably unrealistic thinking, to believe that we would have the entire amount restored to us.
We should be satisfied that our arguments and needs were persuasive enough to convince the Legislature to restore $3.8 million to our budgets. However, we should not be totally satisfied until the full amount is restored.
We should also take satisfaction in the following:
- The determination to make the restoration from the $11.8 figure rather than the $10 million amount.
- The method in which the $3.8 million was restored. The reducing of the $11.8 figure to $8 million instead of making it another line item appropriation ensures that the $3.8 is back in our budgets for good, pending other legislative action in the future.
- The reduction of the figure to $8 million makes it slightly easier to impact a further restoration in the future.
Our message to legislators following the session has been to express our appreciation for the action they took, but to also reinforce that in doing so they did not solve all the problems caused by the earlier cuts and that we would be back asking for further restoration next session.
We need now to build on the momentum. It is imperative that each AEA continue to work closely with their legislators and to keep them informed of AEA activities. The lines of communications that have been established need to be maintained and increased. As evidenced by the number of legislators who turned out for our pre-session visits and for the breakfast reception, there is a greater willingness then in the past to listen to the concerns that we have. It would be a big mistake on our part to not build upon this.
This being an election year one of the main activities of each AEA must be to commit to meeting with any new legislators elected in November. This, along with continuous communications with veteran legislators, should go a long way in continuing the momentum.
However, before we move on to planning for next year we should allow ourselves a brief pat on the back for what we were able to accomplish this year. Even this would not have been possible without the dedicated effort of the AEA Administrators, Board Members, and staff that performed a vital role within the scope of our lobbying effort. Thanks also must go to those LEA personnel who supported our calls for restoration.
Finally, any recap of this session would not be complete without recognizing the pivotal contributions and efforts of AEA Director of Services Brent Siegrist. His role in our lobbying efforts played a major part in our success this session and cannot be emphasized enough.