House passes high school drop-out prevention
As I am sure many of you have heard we had a bit of a scare at the Capitol this week. Representative Ako Abdul-Samad received a threatening letter that included a white powder in the envelope. Luckily, the powder was not hazardous and no one was harmed. Despite this situation, we were able to continue our work in creating a better state for Iowans.
This week we were able to pass a bipartisan bill that has been requested by many school districts across the state dealing with drop-out prevention funding, known as modified allowable growth (MAG). The vehicle was Senate File 451, which in its original form caused much concern over the property tax implications in the bill. We passed an amendment which would address this problem by a vote of 92-6, which will now head to the Senate for approval.
The problem started with a reinterpretation of statute by the Department of Education which clamped down on historic uses of dropout prevention dollars. This left many districts with applications that were being denied, and limited options for addressing their dropout problems.
The amendment approved by the House specifies appropriate uses of MAG funding, giving school districts increased flexibility to meet the needs of at-risk students. And in an effort to prevent an increased burden on local property tax payers, a cap was put into place based on historical percentages used by the school districts.
Currently school districts can request to levy up to 5 percent of their regular program costs beyond their regular program costs for MAG. The amendment caps school districts at two different levels, depending on their past practices over the past four fiscal years.
If over the fiscal years of FY 2010-2013 the school district never levied above 2.5 percent, then the cap is 2.5 percent.
If over the fiscal years of FY 2010-2013 the school district did levy above 2.5 percent, then their cap going forward is the highest levy percentage during that period.
The bill also sets applicability dates to take into account the four fiscal years. Allowable uses of the funding goes into effect July 1, 2012, to be used next school year by districts. This gives school districts the flexibility they have been asking for. The fiscal portion of this bill will go into effect July 1, 2013, recognizing that school districts have already set their rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012.
Another major initiative of the legislature this year has been mental health redesign. We have been working on redesigning Iowa’s mental health delivery system and have moved closer to debating the bill, pending its completion very soon. We are expecting to debate Senate File 2315, which would include the creation of mental health service regions to provide local management of the system, establishment of a core set of services that would be offered in all parts of the state, and improving the data collection in the system.
We will be considering a bipartisan amendment to the bill implementing a number of changes. Primary among the changes is language that would allow a county to continue operating independently if they are able to meet the requirements of a region. The amendment allows a county to get an exemption from the region requirement. Another change from the Senate’s language is a reduction in the number of advisory members on a local board. Instead of requiring three consumers and providers to sit on a board, the amendment reduces to one each.
The House amendment addresses funding for the system beyond FY 2013, with a redesign of the current mental health levy. The state sets a per capita rate that is provided for mental health funding. The amendment calls for a per capita funding level of $47.28. For counties whose levy is currently above the $47.28, they would have their levy reduced. The amendment provides just over $10 million in property tax relief in FY 2014. Counties whose levy is below that amount would have the difference provided by the state. No one’s actual property tax levy would go up, as the state would be responsible for difference.
The amendment also revises the language regarding sub-acute care facilities. The development of these facilities provides a mid-level of service that could significantly help provide an appropriate level of service to those with mental illness, while also establishing a lower-cost service that helps control costs.
The House also took final action on the bill addressing mental health issues in the Judicial Branch. Senate File 2312 is the product of the DHS/Judicial Branch work group tasked with addressing a number of issues related to the interaction of law enforcement, the Judicial Branch, and the mental health system. The group put together a series of recommendations ranging from on-going mental health and disability services training for law enforcement officers, the ability of residential care facilities to determine whether or not to accept people referred to them by the court, clearing up conflicts within the Code on which mental health professionals may be involved in the commitment process, allowing pre-assessment screenings to be used prior to a commitment.
As the legislative session nears its end, improving mental health services will be one of the major accomplishments of the 2012 session. I am happy that we have been able to address several issues in the area of mental health and we will continue to do so to make Iowa a better state.