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We have finished the sixteenth week of this legislative session. According to the calendar, this week is the end of this session, but we are not finished yet. For that reason, we will be back at the Capitol in the next few weeks to finish a few remaining bills and complete a budget for Governor Reynolds to sign.

This time can be the most challenging for the leadership of both chambers as priorities are hard to give up and compromises are part of the process. The Senate moved forward two budget bills agreed upon with the House – the Administration and Regulation budget, and the Transportation budget. This progress was a good start.

The Senate passed several education bills. One of these bills was House File 847, referred to as the “Education Omnibus” bill. It does a number of things related to education in Iowa, and gives schools more flexibility when it comes to funding, parents will have more choice and say in their children’s education, and more accountability measures for local school boards. It also increases the annual amount of classroom expenditures Iowa elementary and secondary school teachers may deduct from gross income for income tax purposes from $250 to $500.

Additionally, it expands the Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit by doubling the allowed expense amount to $2,000 per qualified student, and also extending the credit to families utilizing private instruction.

Another important education bill the Senate passed is House File 813, establishing a new charter school program in Iowa. We have heard a lot of feedback on this issue, but like many issues this year, there is misinformation about what this bill does and what charter schools can do.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, open to all students, and provide greater flexibility to serve a diverse and changing student population. They promote innovation within the classroom and flexibility with resource allocation. They also empower teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction by giving them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits the needs of their students.

The best way to ensure our communities have long-term growth opportunities is for the children growing up in Iowa to have access to great public educational opportunities that suit their needs and help them succeed. Public charter schools have the highest level of accountability of any type of public school, as they operate under performance contracts and can be closed if they don’t meet expectations. The bill requires the charter application to provide information on how they plan to accommodate underserved students. The bill also does not allow charters to discriminate against students in various underserved populations. This bill will offer parents and students another option for an education that will prepare them for the future.

On Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds signed the broadband legislation sent to her by the House and the Senate. The bill changes the broadband facility expansion grant program to set new matching percentages for grants, establish new minimum service speeds for qualifying projects, and change certain factors used in evaluating grant applications. The legislature has agreed to dedicate $100 million to broadband and expanding access in the state.

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