Legislators address education funding, rural broadband

Rep. Lee Hein (left) addresses the crowd during the Feb. 2 Farm Bureau forum at JREC. Hein, Sen. Dan Zumbach and Sen. Tod Bowman addressed questions on education funding, the Bottle Bill, and rural broadband. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Sens. Tod Bowman and Dan Zumbach and Rep. Lee Hein were all present for a legislative forum hosted by Jones County Farm Bureau. The forum was held on Jan. 2 at Kirkwood’s Jones Regional Education Center.

     Topics of interest that afternoon included the Bottle Bill, SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education), education funding, and rural broadband.

SAVE/Education funding

     Bowman said the Iowa Senate voted for the 1 percent SSA (State Supplementary Assistance), but admitted he did not vote in favor.

     This 1 percent would bring in an additional $32 million for K-12 education funding. However, Bowman said he’s hopeful additional funding would be tied to the appropriation or included in the Transportation Equity Bill to assist rural school districts with transportation costs.

     Last year the Senate passed the Transportation Equity Bill, 48-0.

     “The House has interest in it and they’re trying to find some money to fund it,” he said. “I’m hoping they’ll use some of the money that wasn’t used for SSA to put into that fund, which would really help rural schools.” One of those rural schools in Midland, right here in Jones County.

     “The bill would make all school districts equal,” added Bowman.

     Zumbach said since he’s seen in Des Moines, education funding has increased by nearly three-fourths of a billion dollars.

     “So education funding has been a priority,” he said. “But you have to match it to what the people in Iowa can afford and what the economy in Iowa is doing.”

     Iowa has an agricultural-based economy, and Zumbach said when the ag economy is down, Iowa’s overall economy is down.

     “Right now the ag economy is really in the gutter. The projection for the next two to three years is pretty minimal,” explained Zumbach. “The ag economy shrinks, Iowa’s economy shrinks.”

     Hein said while K-12 education remains a priority in Des Moines, other departments take a hit or haven’t seen increases in quite some time. He said the last two years, the legislature has left K-12 funding alone when it came to de-appropriations. That is something Hein said they intend to do again this budget year.

     “But that’s putting a bind on the rest of the budget,” Hein said. “I’ve been here since 2011 and I don’t believe the ag budget has seen any increase in those years. The Health and Human Services budget is growing dramatically. So we’ve got some budgets that haven’t seen increases and it’s actually cutting to the bone.” He used State Patrol as an example, saying there are some areas of the state where the patrol cars are kept pretty thin during certain hours of the day.

     “We need to figure out a way not only to fund education and take care of everybody in the budget,” concluded Hein.

Rural broadband

     Zumbach introduced the REC bill, SSB 3055 last week to help RECs (rural electric cooperatives) expand and install high-speed fiber to rural Iowa.

     He thanked Maquoketa Valley REC for bringing the fiber concept to life, but said he’s coming up against some pushback from urban service providers who want a piece of the pie, too. However, Zumbach said those urban providers don’t have any skin in the game.

     As a rural legislator, Zumbach said it’s his mission to see rural Iowa brought up to the same standards and services as those living in the cities.

     “The urban providers say it’s unfair competition with the RECs,” explained Zumbach. “It’s not competition. The city providers are not out there in the rural areas. We’re in the dark with communication and these cities are light years ahead of us. An office in the middle of a cornfield is every bit as important as an office in the middle of Cedar Rapids or Des Moines.”

     Zumbach said he is not going to quit on this rural broadband bill.

     “Today’s people who are moving to rural areas aren’t asking whether the roof leaks. They ask if they have high-capacity Internet service. It’s that important.”

Bottle Bill

     While Rep. Andy McKean is proposing expansion and changes to the state’s Bottle Bill, several of the legisaltors don’t think it will go anywhere this session.

     “I don’t think it’s going to go very far,” admitted Zumbach. There is good discussion. I think there are some tweaks that could happen.”

     He said he would like to see returns on cans and bottles eliminated from grocery stores, and kept within the redemption centers.

     However, he said he is not for just throwing out the bill all together.

     “I think our roads are cleaner. It creates a thought process of good environmental stewardship,” Zumbach added.

     Hein said many people in the urban areas don’t understand the concept of returning your used cans and bottles because they have curbside pick-up.

     “They just put their cans in a box and set on the curb and they’re done with it,” Hein said. “It’s a rural versus urban issue.” He said they don’t want to pay the deposit fee because they don’t return them.

     Bowman said he’s in agreement with McKean on expanding what containers could be returned, as well as increasing the handling fee from 1 to 2 cents.

     “And you’d see more of them pop up,” he said of the redemption center business, “and you could eliminate the grocery stores from having to handle them.”


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