Education Committee Report – Week 14, 2017

SF 240 – Statewide assessment modifications
SF 350 – Expands high school equivalency diploma options
HF 564 – Flexibility in school funding
HF 565 – Establishing a school district flexibility account


SF 240 strikes the State Board of Education’s decision to move forward with Smarter Balance, a statewide assessment that is aligned to the Iowa Core. Current law requires the State Board of Education to set core academic indicators in math and reading for grades four, eight and 11 and for science in grades eight and 11. This bill strikes the requirement that all students enrolled in grades three through 11 take an assessment of their progress on the core academic indicators.

The bill requires the Department of Education to issue a new request for proposals for the selection of a statewide assessment of student progress to be administered in the school year beginning July 1, 2018. The assessment must measure individual student growth and be aligned to the Iowa Core for grades three through eight, and at least one high school grade. The assessment must be capable of measuring student performance in English language arts, math and science. The assessment must be available in paper-and-pencil and computer-based formats. Potential vendors or providers may collaborate to meet the requirements. The Department of Education must issue the request for proposals by April 30, 2017. In addition, the bill gives the State Board of Education the ability to accept the best proposal and write rules to implement the proposal without further legislative approval.

Finally, the bill makes a significant change to accredited private schools and assessments. Currently, all accredited private schools must develop and file with the Department of Education a comprehensive school improvement plan that includes assessing educational needs and establishing local education standards and student achievement levels. Accredited private schools are currently required to give the same annual statewide assessment as public schools. The bill changes this requirement so that all accredited private schools are exempt from the statewide annual testing requirement.
[4/10: 39-9 (Bisignano, Danielson, Dotzler, Hart, Hogg, Jochum, D. Johnson, Mathis, Petersen “no”; Allen, Taylor excused)


SF 350 expands the ways in which Iowa can issue high school equivalency diplomas (HSED). The Iowa Department of Education issues a diploma/HSED when an applicant passes minimum standards in core areas of reading, language arts, literacy, math, science and social studies. Currently, an applicant must submit an application to a testing center. Under the bill, an applicant could go to the testing center or to a high school equivalency program. One of these pathways is required to show a student’s competence in core areas. The bill requires the Department of Education to prescribe assessments and resources. This will allow the State Board of Education to expand the pathways a student/applicant could take to show competence in an area, beyond taking a test. This is similar to what other states have done. Other pathways will include a test battery, credit-based measures, and attainment of other academic credentials of equivalent or greater rigor.
[4/10: 48-0 (Allen, Taylor excused)]


HF 564 provides additional flexibility in school funding. Despite the state underfunding the PreK-12 school system for the last seven years, some are expressing concerns about carry forward ending balances in schools’ categorical funds. When new programs are created, certain guidelines are attached to the funding schools receive, dictating how they can spend the funds. This bill makes changes to a number of funds — including professional development funding, at-risk and dropout funding, preschool funding and PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding — by adding additional allowable expenses meant to help further the goals of the program. It also includes language to provide more flexibility regarding rules and guidelines handed down from the Department of Education. A floor amendment adds “safety equipment” to the list of authorized uses for preschool funds and clarifies that older or younger children enrolled in a preschool program may have the costs of their programming paid for using preschool funds in the ending fund balance or from the flexibility fund. The amendment also removes the flexibility associated with PPEL provisions.
[4/12: 49-0 (Bertrand excused)]


HF 565 sets up a school district Flexibility Fund. Because of the parameters around certain program funding, some school districts are unable to fully use their resources and end up accumulating unused funds year after year. There are more than 74 identified sources of funding in which school districts statewide have leftover funds totaling more than $146 million in FY15 ($17.5 million more than  FY14). HF 565 creates a new “Flexibility Fund” to collect some of these dollars to be used in a broader fashion, while keeping with the direction of the original source of the funds. This fund would give districts more spending authority, help them access some of this unused funding, and use the money to provide more high-quality programming and a stronger educational environment overall.

An allocation from the Flexibility Fund must be approved by the school board and must be included in the budget certified by local budget law (chapter 24). Before approving an allocation, the school board must hold a public hearing, including proper public notice of the hearing of the proposed resolution, the original purpose of the funds, the proposed use of the funds, the amount of the proposed allocation and the fiscal year in which the transfer occurred.

HF 565 requires the Department of Education to engage in a manner that gives deference to the decisions of a school district and minimize intrusion into their decision making. This would involve decisions when they are carrying out agency action or decisions related to categorical funding. A strike-all floor amendment was adopted that made several conforming changes throughout the bill, including the name of the fund, as requested by the Department of Education. The Flexibility Fund will now be an account under the General Fund for the purposes of accounting.  The amendment also says that before any program’s ending fund balance is transferred into the Flexibility Fund, the school board must include in its resolution that the original purpose of the funding has met the intended need and purpose.
[4/12: 49-0 (Bertrand excused)]