School board members from across Iowa talked about their priorities for the upcoming legislative session at the Association of School Boards annual convention in Des Moines last week.

IASB lobbyist Emily Piper says one priority is extending the one cent infrastructure tax. Another is making the funding that offsets transportation costs for some districts permanent. Piper says large rural districts have faced mounting transportation costs. “They’re spending more of their general fund dollars to actually get student to the classroom that other districts are and that means that there’s fewer dollars for the classroom. For teachers for curriculum, for textbooks, things like that,” Piper says.

She says making the money permanent would help in budgeting. “Because it is an annual appropriation they can’t really make the significant changes in their budgeting that they’d like to,” according to Piper. “And number two, we like to see that amount increased that’s invested in that transportation equity — so more districts could see that assistance.” Piper says getting an equal amount of money from the state for each student in every district is another concern.

“The legislature has started the process to equalize those districts by investing money into those districts to bring them up to the actual cost per pupil,” she says. Mental health issues are another concern that Piper says the school boards are looking at trying to solve.

“The challenge is — and there’s a lot of folks looking at a lot of different angles on mental health — is how do we get resources into those schools, help those students in need, how do we identify those students in need without incurring a huge financial cost to the state or the district,” Piper says. “So we will be looking at some options to increase the use of telemedicine to bring the providers to the students rather than have the students go to the providers.” Upping the amount of overall state aid rounds out the priorities of the IASB members. Piper says schools were thankful to be spared from recent budget cuts.

“We were fortunate to receive new money when many areas of the budget were being cut. Having said that, if you are a district with declining enrollment — and the majority of our districts are in declining in enrollment — these levels of funding at one percent, one-point-two-five percent, whatever we end up with, is not enough to sustain those schools. And they’re really struggling.”

Piper says the school districts and school boards have had good conversations with lawmakers and she is hopeful that they will be able to see these priorities become reality when the legislature meets again for the next session.